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Negotiators Finish Pact On Chemical Management

Deal provides voluntary guidelines listing policy options

by Cheryl Hogue
February 7, 2006

Credit: Photo by Cheryl Hogue
Credit: Photo by Cheryl Hogue

Negotiators completed a voluntary global strategy for safely managing chemicals late on Feb. 6.

The meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, began on Feb. 4 and is the culmination of three years of talks on a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

The deal is designed to protect people and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of chemicals. It is primarily aimed at helping developing countries with weak or no regulatory systems for chemicals management.

SAICM would be a guideline, not a binding treaty, providing a list of possible policy options that these nations could employ, such as regulations on the management of chemical waste (C&EN, Sept. 19, 2005, page 27). Countries both rich and poor, the chemical industry, and labor and environmental activists around the world endorse the concept of SAICM.

The Bush Administration took a series of hard-line positions on seemingly arcane points that had threatened to derail the talks.

For instance, Claudia A. McMurray, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment, said the U.S. wanted a global exemption to SAICM for pharmaceuticals and food additives. The U.S. objected to a draft provision that would have exempted these products only if a country had separate regulations for these products and for commercial chemicals.

Under a compromise, SAICM will not cover products whose health and environmental safety is regulated by a food or pharmaceutical agency, such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

The U.S. also spent much time working to delete any reference in SAICM to the World Bank and other international financial institutions. U.S. delegates said mentioning the institutions could distract these organizations from their primary mandate: reducing poverty in the developing world. Ultimately, negotiators agreed to eliminate most references.

However, Klaus Töpfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, told negotiators that eradication of poverty cannot happen without the safe use and management of chemicals.

The World Bank released a report on Feb. 5 in which it concludes that safe management of chemicals is a key part of strategies for helping lift developing countries out of poverty.



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