A new international treaty took effect yesterday that will help protect developing countries from the misuse of dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Supporters say it aims to ensure that ?development is environmentally sustainable.?

The United Nations says there are about 70-thousand different chemicals on the market today, with 15-hundred new ones introduced each year.

The name of the treaty is a long one: ?The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.?

Bill Murray is a spokesman for the Rotterdam Secretariat. From Rome, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the importance of the treaty.

He says, ?The Rotterdam Convention helps provide a first line of defense for developing countries on potentially hazardous chemicals. It seeks to share the responsibility between parties to the convention on international trade of hazardous chemicals in order to help them work together to protect human health and the environment.?

Problems with chemical or pesticide misuse or pollution helped give rise to the treaty. Mr. Murray says, ?In the past, there has been unregulated trade in hazardous chemicals. And this convention helps provide developing countries in particular with a tool to help them control the chemicals that are imported into their country; gives them a mechanism to indicate those which they want to receive and to avoid those they do not want to receive.?

A key provision of the agreement is the Prior Informed Consent Procedure or PIC. Mr. Murray says, ?The Prior Informed Consent Procedure is one of the key provisions of the convention. And what that involves is that chemicals that are subject to the convention?are those for which countries are invited to make import decisions. That is, a decision as to whether they wish to receive future imports of the chemical.? Those decisions are then collected by the secretariat, which distributes them every six months to ?all parties.?

Mr. Murray says, ?Exporting countries can then review the list and determine whether or not a particular importing country has said yes or no to the imports of the chemical.? The United States has not yet ratified the treaty, while the European Commission has ratified it. The convention had been operating on a voluntary basis since September 1998.

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