Interview between Charlie Avis, BRS Public Information Officer, Yun Zhou, Technical Officer of the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat based at FAO Rome.
Charlie Avis (CA): Good morning, Yun, you must be very busy right now following up on the recent CRC meeting, thanks for joining me and first question please: what exact role does this scientific subsidiary body play in the workings of the Convention?
Yun Zhou (YZ): Good morning, Charlie and thank you! Yes indeed we are all very busy building on the highly successful meeting. The CRC – or Chemicals Review Committee to give it its full title – is made up of 31 experts in chemicals management appointed by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Rotterdam Convention and is responsible for undertaking scientific review of chemicals proposed for listing. Based on the Committee’s recommendations the COP takes a final decision on the listing of a chemical into Annex III of the Convention
CA: So actually the Committee prepares the way for decisions to be taken by parties at the COP, at which point they become binding. So, please tell me, what decisions have been taken by the Committee so far?
YZ: At its tenth meeting, CRC took decisions to recommend listing short-chained chlorinated paraffins and tributyltin compounds in Annex III to the Convention as industrial chemicals. The Committee then prepared draft decision guidance documents on those chemicals and adopted them at the eleventh meeting. The Committee also concluded that at least two notifications of final regulatory action from two PIC regions for carbofuran and carbosulfan met the criteria in Annex II to the Convention, and thereby recommended listing of those chemicals in Annex III to the Convention as pesticides. The Committee will prepare draft decision guidance documents for consideration at its next meeting in September 2016.
CA: The two pesticides you mention, carbosulfan and carbofuran: can you please give me an idea of what uses they have had, and in which parts of the world?
YZ: Indeed. Carbofuran and carbosulfan are used to control pests in a wide variety of field crops. Just to give some examples, in the EU carbofuran was used to control soil insects where maize, sugar beet or sunflowers are grown. In Canada, it was applied to sunflower, corn, sugar beet, potato, raspberry, and strawberry. In the Sahelian countries it was used in various vegetables, fruits and other crops as well as in forests. With regard to carbosulfan it was used on maize, sugar beet, citrus and cotton. The review of the two pesticides by the CRC is triggered by the notifications submitted by the EU, seven Sahelian countries and in the case of carbofuran also by Canada. These countries concluded that the risks to human health and environment caused by the two pesticides were unacceptable and consequently banned them.
CA: And if those two chemicals are then listed, what would that mean for the parties in terms of obligations?
YZ: The chemicals listed in Annex III to the Convention are subject to the Prior Informed Consent - or PIC - Procedure. The PIC procedure is a mechanism for obtaining and disseminating the decisions of importing Parties on the import of the chemicals listed in Annex III and for ensuring compliance with those decisions by exporting Parties.
Each chemical listed in Annex III has a decision guidance document (DGD) made available to all Parties. The decision guidance documents are intended to help governments assess the risks associated with the handling and use of the chemical and make more informed decisions about future import and use of the chemical, taking into account local conditions.
For each chemical listed in Annex III, all Parties need to take a decision on whether or not they will allow future import of the chemical, and send such a decision (import response) to the Secretariat. The Secretariat circulates the import responses every six months through the PIC circular. Exporting Parties need to ensure that exports of chemicals in Annex III do not occur contrary to the decision of each importing Party. Exporting Parties ensure that import responses published in the PIC Circular are immediately communicated to their exporters, industry and other relevant authorities.
CA: Good! Back to the CRC, is there another “chance” between now and the COP to propose additional decisions?
YZ: Yes, the CRC will meet again in September 2016 to review candidate chemicals and propose additional decisions on listing if they meet the criteria set out by the Convention. In order for them to do so parties of the Convention need to submit notifications of final regulatory actions for banned or severely restricted chemicals. Further, developing countries and countries with an economy in transition are encouraged to submit proposal on pesticide formulations that cause human health or environment problems under the use conditions in their countries. The CRC counts on timely submission by parties.
CA: And what work is ongoing between now and then?
YZ: A lot of work is going on between now and then. For each of the chemicals listed in Annex III a DGD is prepared by the CRC to help governments making informed decisions about future imports of these chemicals. As decided at the current meeting, the CRC immediately started with the preparation of the DGD for carbofuran and carbosulfan, which will be finalized at its next meeting and submitted to the COP together with CRC’s recommendations to list the pesticides in Annex III. In order to enhance the efficiency of its work, about two months before the actual meeting the CRC will start to preliminary review the information submitted by parties, which is often voluminous. The members serve the Committee for four year in each term. In May 2016 about half of the current committee members will be replaced by new members. In view of the upcoming meeting of the CRC in September 2016 and of the substantial contribution required of members towards the intersessional work, it is important to enable new members and to provide them with appropriate tools. An orientation workshop will be organized in April 2016 to familiarize new members with the role and mandate of the CRC, as well as its operational procedures and policy guidance. The workshop will provide a platform to exchange experience, transfer knowledge and will help fostering efficient working relationships among members of the Committee. The secretariat supports the CRC in carrying out all these activities. It is indeed rewording to work with such a highly competent and dedicated Committee.
CA: Finally, the Convention is jointly administered by FAO in Rome and UNEP in Geneva. Can you say something about this shared responsibility, and how does it work in practice?
YZ: Indeed, the team supporting the CRC consists of staff from both parts of the Secretariats and works closely together. A workplan is jointly developed, which clarifies the responsibilities of each team member and helps us to communicate and monitor the progress. With regard to the technical support to the Committee the FAO colleagues are taking care of the pesticides while UNEP colleagues deal with the industrial chemicals. As the meeting was held at the FAO headquarters we also receive logistic support from the relevant divisions of the organization.
CA: Thank you very much for your time, good luck with this important work
YZ: Thank you !