Earth Day Tragedy: Flawed Environmental Treaty Dumps on Third World

WASHINGTON, DC April 22, 1997 —The Basel Convention, a United Nations treaty which regulates world trade, is due to ban all trade in “wastes” between industrialized and developing countries at the end of this year. The trade ban will disrupt the $50 billion annual global market in scrap plastics, used electronic equipment, and recyclable chemical products. China, India, and other developing Asian nations will see themselves cut off from global markets for essential raw materials.

“Environmental officials in the Third World have betrayed their own people's interests by signing the Basel Convention,” said James Sheehan, research associate at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Many poorer countries are starting to realize that they were tricked into accepting lower living standards by the scare-tactics of the extremist Greenpeace organization.”

The Basel Convention was first sold as a treaty to protect the environment from toxic hazards, but has evolved into a blanket prohibition on Third World trade in valuable commodities. The treaty's primary proponent is Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group.

Countries like India depend on zinc-enriched fertilizer to produce wheat. But trade in zinc will be banned under the Basel Convention. According to K.R. Shah, managing director of Arat Electrochemicals in India, companies like his that specialize in processing zinc ash will suffer. “[Zinc] supplies have already dried up in anticipation of the ban,'' said Shah at a recent conference of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Liu Fan of Amlon Metals/Euromet in Shanghai, China, warned that his country and other Asian nations will suffer from the treaty. “Implementation of a total export ban would be an economic blow for the importing countries affected,'' said Mr. Liu. “There is already a black market developing in China for copper,'' in anticipation of the coming shortage, he told the Journal of Commerce.

Mr. Liu takes issue with the Basel Convention's characterization of all secondary metals as so-called “waste,” calling it a “mini-gold mine” to many companies which utilize extraction and recycling technologies. Trade is what allows Asian economies to import scrap and recyclable materials.

Tragically, this mini-gold mine for the Third World is due to be shut down by the Basel Convention 1998.

For a copy of CEI's study, Trashing Free Trade: The Basel Convention's Impact on International Commerce, please call Greg Smith at (202) 331-1010 or [email protected].