Industry fights EC plan to slow chemical sales to third world

Legislation being drafted by the European Community aimed at tightening controls on exports of certain potentially dangerous chemicals to third-world countries has come under heavy attack from industry in recent weeks. Industry officials argue that the legislation, if approved by the Community, could effectively halt exports of certain badly needed pesticides to developing countries by creating a mountain of red tape. They say it could delay export authorization by six months to a year.

``This legislation would do nothing to improve the situation [in the third world],'' Dr. G. Ronald Gardiner the Brussels-based international Group of National Associations of Agrochemical Manufacturers said. ``It might even lead to exports not taking place at all.''

Industry criticism has focused on attempts within the EC to enshrine the principle of ``prior consent'' in legally binding export legislation.

A draft directive being considered by officials of the European Commission would permit export of certain chemical substances that are banned or severely restricted in the 10-nation Community, including pesticides -- but only after the importing country had given the go-ahead.

The proposal is to be presented to the Community's 14-member executive commission later this year. It will not go to the EC's Council of Ministers, which must give its approval before the bill becomes law, until next year. There, it will face stiff opposition from several countries. Only the Netherlands is strongly in favor of including the ``prior consent'' clause.

The proposal comes in response to criticism from environmental and consumer organizations that the chemical industry has taken advantage of the third world's inability or unwillingness to apply Western-style legislation on the quality, sale, use, and packaging of potentially dangerous chemicals. The international aid organization OXFAM has estimated that pesticides alone kill between 14,000 and 29,000 people each year, largely because of irresponsible behavior on the part of chemical exporters.

Another group, the Pesticides Action Network, has launched a ``dirty dozen'' campaign aimed at halting the sale to developing countries of 12 potentially dangerous pesticides.

If approved, the EC directive would be the first international legislation to incorporate the principle of prior constent. It would also be the first whose implementation would be mandatory.

Recently, several international organizations, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations Environment Program, and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), have been active in the field, approving a range of guidelines on chemical exports to the third world. All of them have been voluntary.

In June, for example, the FAO council approved an international ``code of conduct'' on the distribution and use of agrochemicals in developing countries.

``We anticipate no problems for the companies concerned,'' Dr. Gardiner of the associations of agrochemical manufacturers said. ``Most of them, in any case, are already following the guidelines.''

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