UNEP News Release

For information only. Not an official record.


NAIROBI, 12 September 1996 - Officials from 100 governments are meeting at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Gigiri next week to negotiate an international agreement on hazardous chemicals and pesticides. The talks will lead to a legally binding treaty regulating the import and export of hazardous chemicals through the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure.

"At our first meeting last March governments emphasized the need to move quickly and adopt a convention by early 1997," says Mrs. Maria Celina de Azevedo Rodriques, a Brazilian diplomat who is the meeting's chairperson. "Once in place, this new treaty will represent our first line of global defense against chemical hazards."

The PIC procedure, which is now voluntary, helps importing countries learn more about the characteristics of hazardous chemicals that may be shipped to them. They can then decide on whether or not to permit future imports. Exporting countries are notified which products importing countries no longer want to receive and can help ensure that illegal exports do not occur.

With a PIC convention in operation, the international community will have taken its first major step towards establishing a comprehensive approach to chemicals risks. Until now, these risks have been addressed at the national or regional levels or through very specific international agreements dealing with the various media that transport chemicals - water, air, and land.

"Chemicals are now at the top of the global environmental agenda", says Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, UNEP Executive Director. "I welcome the sense of urgency that governments have shown in the PIC negotiations, and I am optimistic that this spirit of cooperation will help us as we address further issues of concern."

"Many small farmers face a considerable risk of acute pesticide poisoning", warns Mrs. Victoria Sekitoleko, the Sub-regional representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for Southern and Eastern Africa. "Pesticides can be highly hazardous to human health and the environment. The PIC procedure will allow countries to use those pesticides that are necessary. It will prevent trading of pesticides that are dangerous and pose risk to human health and the environment, especially to small farmers who cannot handle highly toxic pesticides safely."

Many chemicals and pesticides are harmful to humans, animals, and ecosystems. They can be highly hazardous, cause cancer or birth defects, or enter the food chain and then gradually accumulate in the vital organs of people before reaching hazardous levels.

Another example is PCBs, a group of industrial chemicals used in electrical transformers and other products. PCBs are now ubiquitous in the environment, where they accumulate in international waters and the body tissue of wildlife and humans. Though banned by some major producers as early as the 1970s, PCBs continue to be used in countries where the governments lack adequate information and controls.

Efforts by FAO and UNEP to promote chemical safety were initially based on the 1985 International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides and the 1987 London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade. These two voluntary systems promote the sharing of information among governments and encourage them to shift towards less hazardous chemicals.

However, as some pesticides and other chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in certain developed countries are still widely used elsewhere, particularly in developing countries, the governing bodies of FAO and UNEP introduced the voluntary "Prior Informed Consent" procedure (PIC) in 1989. Some 145 countries are participating in the voluntary procedure.

Although the procedure has been a success, governments now see a need for member countries to adopt mandatory controls on trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides. The current negotiations on a legally binding instrument will complement steps already taken by a few countries to pass laws requiring their own export industries to comply with the decisions of importing countries.

The main purpose of the future agreement is to help countries move towards more effective chemicals management and phase out the use of the most hazardous compounds. Training and capacity-building will therefore be an important part of the negotiations.

This first negotiating session was held in Brussels in March. The third and final PIC negotiating session is expected to adopt the final convention in early 1997, probably in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Note to journalists: Official documents for the meeting are available on the Internet at

For more information, please contact:

Michael Williams             Robert Bisset
Tel (41-22) 979 9242         (254-2) 62 3084
Fax (41-22) 797 3464         (254-2) 62 3692
Email:    Email:
UNEP Geneva                  UNEP Nairobi

UNEP News Release 1996/51


Robert G. Bisset
Media/Information Officer
Information and Public Affairs
United Nations Environment Programme
PO Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: +254-2-623084
Fax: +254-2-623692

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