Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Is Japan bullying Thailand to accept its toxic waste?

Yesterday, the Bangkok Post reported that a statement had been appended to a draft of the Thailand-Japan Free Trade Agreement stating that no breech of Basel Accord is "intended" -- a weak appendage that activists say would have no legal force.

The Basel Convention, signed in 1992, stipulates that countries must dispose of toxic waste within their own borders. It broadly bans all forms of hazardous waste being shipped from the industrialized world to the developing world. However, Japan appears to be using a proposed bilateral free frade agreement (FTA) with Thailand as a way to force Thailand to accept toxic waste imports. The proposed draft Thailand-Japan FTA specifically eliminates Thai tariffs on the import of toxic waste:

"The investment charter of the Thai-Japan FTA has many clauses protecting the Japanese investor involved in recycling hazardous waste," said Witoon Liancharoon, spokesman for FTA Watch. "Thailand won't be able to use any protections guaranteed under existing multilateral environment agreements if a problem occurs." (Asia Times) Why would the Japanese be insisting that such clauses be part of an agreement, unless they inteded to export toxic waste to Thailand (in contravention of the Basel Convention?).

An Asia Times article provides some figures which indicate that Thailand has not been safely disposing of toxic waste:
As of 2001, according to industry monitors, less than 10% of the estimated 1 million tons of hazardous waste produced in the country was properly stabilized, processed and disposed of. The rest was dumped either into rivers, into open dumps or unregulated private properties, or at sea. The 25%-state-owned General Environmental Conservation Public Co, or Genco, has long held a local monopoly on industrial-waste disposal - but until recently only had the capacity to handle a mere 20% of Thailand's annually produced toxic waste, according to industry experts.

At the same time, Thailand has nonetheless imported growing quantities of hazardous waste. In 2002, it accepted 54 tonnes of waste from Japan, which increased to 334,000 tonnes in 2003, and 350,000 tonnes in 2004, according to Thailand's Customs Department. "Yet we don't know what happened to the waste, where it was sent to in the country," said CAIN's Penchom. "That information is described as a trade secret. This mystery is a problem to us."
More background information on this issue is available at the website of the the Basel Action Network (BAN).

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