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Exports of banned hazardous chemicals: time to put an end to double standards

1. Hazardous chemicals, banned at a domestic level in order to protect human health and the environment, are currently produced and exported by EU countriesto third countries where regulations are generally weaker.

2. An in-depth investigation(link is external) has shown that, in 2018 alone, more than 81,000 tonnes of pesticides containing 41 different hazardous chemicals banned on EU fields, have been exported from European factories for use in agriculture in other countries.

3. Such agrochemicals include Syngenta’s paraquat, the world’s deadliest weedkiller, and acetochlor, manufactured by Bayer, which was banned in the EU over concernsrelated to contamination of drinking water and its potential to damage chromosomes. The EU also exports vast amounts of banned, bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides.

4. Low- and middle-income countrieslike Morocco, South Africa, India, Mexico, Malaysia or Brazil were the intended destinations for the bulk ofshipments. In such countries, dangerous pesticides banned in the EU cannot be safely used and have devastating impacts on both human health and the environment, resulting in widespread infringement of human rights.

5. About 385 million cases of acute pesticide poisonings occur each year, mainly in low- and middle-income countries, where a large proportion of the population continues to be involved in agriculture orlives in areas where pesticides are used, and where farmers often handle them unprotected.

6. The main export destinations for these banned pesticides are countries that are the biggest exporters of agri-food products to the EU. Like a boomerang, banned pesticides find their way back to European consumers via imported food, thus ending up on the dinner plates of EU citizens.

7. The EU also exports dangerous, banned industrial chemicals; in 2020, this included 21 industrial chemicals banned orseverely restricted in the EU in order to protect human health or the environment. For instance in 2020 the EU exported 539 tonnes of nonylphenol ethoxylates, an endocrine disruptor that is banned in the EU. The EU also exports cancer-causing car cadmium batteriesthat are prohibited in itsjurisdiction.

8. Overall,some 667,000 tonnes of hazardous chemicals banned orseverely restricted in the EU were exported in 2020, according to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA).

9. “The practice of wealthy States exporting their banned toxic chemicals to poorer nations lacking the capacity to control the risks is deplorable and must end”, according to a statement endorsed by 35 United Nations Human Rights Council experts in July 2020. The experts warned that the “health and environmental impacts” are externalized “on the most vulnerable”, especially “communities of African descent and other people of colour”.

10. As shown in a recent legal analysis, by allowing the export of banned pesticides to African countries members of the Bamako Convention or partiesto the Central American Regional Agreement on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, the EU violates its international obligations under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and customary law, as well as its international human rights obligations.

The European Commission must live up to its commitment to « lead by example »

11. On 14 October 2020, in its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, the European Commission committed that the EU will “lead by example, and, in line with international commitments, ensure that hazardous chemicals banned in the European Union are not produced for export, including by amending relevant legislation if and as needed.”

12. The commitment of the European Commission to prohibit the export of hazardous chemicals banned in the EU was welcomed by dozens of civil society organizations in an open letter. In addition, almost 70 MEPs wrote to the President of the Commission, welcoming its promise to end this practice, while stressing that “concrete actions are urgently needed”.

13. On 9 December 2020, the Commission confirmed that it is “currently considering the various options for implementing this objective, including a revision of the legislation” to prevent the export of hazardous chemicals, including pesticides, that have been banned in the EU.

14. In March 2021, the Council of the European Union stated that it “expressly welcomes” the initiative of the Chemical Strategy to address “the production for export of harmful chemicals not allowed in the European Union”. The Commission is now expected to produce a legislative proposal by 2023.

15. In the meantime, Member States are taking the lead. France has already prohibited the export of pesticides which are banned in the EU for reasons of health or environmental protection. Germany is also moving towards the adoption of a legal prohibition on the export of banned pesticides. Other countries are considering the adoption of similar measures.

16. We call, with utmost urgency, on the European Commission to uphold its commitment and table, without further delay, a legislative proposal to prohibit the export of all pesticides and other hazardous chemicals banned at EU level, to put an end to double standards, and to ensure a level-playing field for the industry and harmonization between national legislations.

17. The EU must play a global leadership role on this issue. An EU-wide export ban will be an important step towards implementing the commitment, stated in the Chemicals Strategy, that the EU will show “international leadership” by “setting the example for a global sound management of chemicals” and “play a leading role to champion and promote high standards in the world”.

18. A ban will also inspire non-EU countries to follow, and to also prohibit the export of dangerous pesticides and other hazardous chemicals that are banned in their own jurisdictions, in order to protect human health, occupational health and safety, and the environment.

19. An EU-wide export ban will promote a global transition away from the use of those dangerous chemicals and a move towards more sustainable practices and safer alternatives, sending a strong signal to governments and companies that such hazardous pesticides and chemicals should not be used anywhere in the world. This will help trigger the highly needed investments and funding for the development and implementation of alternative practices like Integrated Pest Management, Integrated Weed Management, agroforestry and agroecology.

Ensuring an effective export ban by amending the EU PIC Regulation

20. The EU should prohibit the export of banned chemicals by amending the PIC Regulation (EU Regulation No 649/2012 concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals).

21. The PIC Regulation governs the trade of hazardous chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in the EU, places obligations on companies that wish to export these chemicals to non-EU countries or import them into the EU.

22. The objectives of the PIC Regulation are to “promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts in the international movement of hazardous chemicals to protect human health and the environment from potential harm” and “contribute to the environmentally sound use of hazardous chemicals”.

23. The PIC Regulation has a list of chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted in the EU in order to protect human health and/or the environment. It also contains a mechanism to annually update this list with newly banned or severely restricted chemicals. PIC already includes an export ban that applies to a small list of hazardous chemicals (listed in its Annex V).

24. The PIC Regulation is therefore the most adequate piece of legislation for implementing an EU-wide export ban.

25. While within the EU, the PIC Regulation implements the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, which mainly concerns the facilitation of information exchange so that importing countries are informed about the export of certain hazardous chemicals and their characteristics, its Article 15 makes it clear that “nothing in this Convention shall be interpreted as restricting the right of the Parties to take action that is more stringently protective of human health and the environment than that called for in this Convention”.

The export ban should apply to all banned chemicals

32. There are currently 260 hazardous chemicals listed in Annex I of the EU PIC regulation, of which 59 are industrial chemicals, three are severely hazardous formulations and 207 are pesticides. Some of the chemicals are groups of chemicals that include dozens of different compounds. The list is updated every year with newly banned chemicals.

33. Of those, 32 industrial chemicals, three severely hazardous formulations and 193 pesticides are listed in the EU PIC regulation because they have been banned in order to protect human health or the environment. All banned industrial chemicals subject to PIC are either banned for consumer use or banned for professional use, or for both use categories. Similarly, all banned pesticides listed in PIC are either banned as plant protection products or banned for use as biocides (such as disinfectants or parasiticides) , or in both use categories.

34. The export ban should apply to all chemicals that have been listed in PIC as having been banned in order to protect human health or the environment, when the intended use in the importing country is one that is prohibited in the EU. The Commission should put in place strong control measures to ensure compliance.

35. All pesticides banned as plant protection products should be prohibited from being exported for use as plant protection products. Similarly, the export of pesticides banned as biocides should be prohibited if their use in the destination country is as biocides. Similarly, the export of industrial chemicals banned for professional use in the EU should be prohibited for professional use elsewhere. Export of industrial chemicals for consumer use outside the EU should be disallowed if they are banned for consumer use within the EU.

36. The export ban should apply regardless of whether the chemicals are exported as pure substances, or in mixtures or articles.

37. A further 19 pesticides and 36 industrial chemicals are listed in Annex I of the EU PIC Regulation as having been “severely restricted” to protect human health or the environment. This typically means that the use of the chemicals is allowed only under certain strict conditions.

38. The export of those chemicals should only be allowed for uses that are approved in the EU, with strict provisions in place to ensure compliance in importing countries.

The export ban should apply to all countries

39. Among the destinations for EU exports of banned chemicals are OECD countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia. An EU export ban should apply to all countries, including OECD members.

40. Dangerous chemicals have the same impact on people’s health and the environment, regardless of where they are used.

41. For example, paraquat, which was banned in the EU because of concerns related to farmers’ exposure and possible links between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, has created similar health problems in the US, which is the main export destination for the EU’s paraquat exports. Hundreds of US agricultural workers have developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of occupational exposure to paraquat and have sued its manufacturer, Syngenta.

42. An export ban that would allow the export of banned chemicals to other OECD countries would also inevitably create loopholes as nothing would prevent these countries re-exporting those chemicals to low- or middle-income countries.

43. The European Commission’s commitment to ban the export of banned chemicals makes no distinction between export destinations. Also, neither the Rotterdam Convention nor the EU PIC Regulation make any distinction between OECD and non-OECD countries in terms of the trade restrictions that apply to the export of hazardous chemicals.

Additional measures should be adopted to support a global transition

44. A prohibition on the export of banned chemicals is an important first step, but it must be complemented by other measures. The EU must assess the needs of farmers and agricultural workers in low-and-middle income countries, and put in place just transition measures to support them in their transition away from hazardous chemicals, and towards safer and sustainable alternatives, especially Integrated Pest Management, Integrated Weed Management, agroforestry and agroecology. These farmers must be supported in their transition towards sustainable food production systems, to ensure they are not subject to a higher risk of crop losses and are not forced to buy those hazardous chemicals from somewhere else.

45. European manufacturers that make huge profits from the sale of hazardous, banned chemicals in low-and-middle income countries also produce a vast amount of those products outside Europe, the sales of which will remain unaffected by an EU export ban. Likewise, manufacturers could evade the export ban by moving production to other sites, outside the EU. We therefore call on the Commission to implement without delay its commitment in the Chemical Strategy to “promote due diligence for the production and use of chemicals within the upcoming initiative on sustainable corporate governance” and clarify that agrochemical companies headquartered in the EU are prohibited from producing or selling dangerous chemicals that are banned in the EU anywhere in the world.

46. We also call on the European Commission to implement the EU commitment to “use all its diplomacy, trade policy and development support instruments” to promote the “phasing out” of the use of pesticides no longer approved in the EU and “to promote low-risk substances and alternatives to pesticides globally”. This could be achieved by establishing, in cooperation with FAO, WHO, UNEP and ILO, a new UN mechanism to promote a global phase-out of highly hazardous pesticides in agriculture by 2030.

47. The Commission should also engage in dialogue and cooperation with partner countries, including in the framework of Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters and Sustainable Food Systems Chapters in trade agreements, and leverage the Global Europe instrument to work on national roadmaps and specific programmes and partnerships that will support partner countries to their transition towards sustainable food systems and the achievement of sustainable development.

48. Ensuring a global transition also implies ending the import of agricultural and agri-food products that have been treated with pesticides banned in the EU, as well as other products made with chemicals banned in the EU. It is a question of putting an end to the export of the most unsustainable impacts of our EU consumption and prioritising the health of agricultural workers, the population, and the environment in producing countries.