DENR opposed waste dumping in trade deal but gave in to DTI

Philippine Daily Inquirer - 10/26/2006

DENR opposed waste dumping in trade deal but gave in to DTI

By Blanche Rivera
Inquirer

THE LETTERS said it all: Protesting environment officials caved in to trade negotiators who were then hammering out an “all-or-nothing” deal.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) tried but failed to stop the government from including toxic and hazardous wastes from the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), yielding to pressure.

Then Environment Secretary Michael T. Defensor wrote the Department of Trade and Industry, stressing the DENR’s opposition not only to the proposed zero tariff on hazardous wastes under the JPEPA but even the initial negotiations on waste trade.

Defensor, who became presidential chief of staff early this year, invoked the prohibitions under the Basel Convention to which both the Philippines and Japan are parties, and Republic Act No. 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, which bans the transport or entry of toxic materials into the country even for transit.

“We would like to reiterate our position that we are for the exclusion from trading under the JPEPA all wastes and scraps prohibited for trade under the Basel Convention and/or under our national laws/rules and regulations,” Defensor said in a letter to then DTI Secretary Juan Santos.

“Moreover, the Department is for the exclusion or delisting from trade under the JPEPA prohibited ozone depleting substances/chemicals falling within the jurisdiction of this Office,” he said.

The letter dated July 13, 2005 was the second official communication submitted by the DENR to the DTI, which sought the comment of DENR officials on the tariff schedules for waste and scraps in a letter dated April 18, 2005.

In its first reply on May 16, 2005, the DENR informed the DTI that it was amenable to the proposed tariff reductions on forestry and mineral products, and the tariff reduction schedules set by the DTI for all the other tradable goods except the toxic and hazardous wastes.

Most waste products, including municipal waste, incinerator ash from the burning of municipal waste, ash and residues containing mercury and other chemicals, clinical waste, sewage sludge, fall into category A of the tariff schedule which mandates “immediate elimination (of tariffs) once the JPEPA comes into force.”

“Please be informed that the importation of or exportation into the country of the wastes and scraps being referred to by your Office are prohibited under the Basel Convention in which the Philippines is a Contracting Party,” Defensor said.

“Relative to this, we are of the view that there is no need to include in trade negotiations, such as under JPEPA, goods/products with prohibitions from being traded,” he said.

Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal was crafted to stop unbridled free trade of toxic waste, products and technologies. The treaty came into force on May 5, 1992, imposing controls on the movement of hazardous materials and enforcing a total ban on dumping in Antarctica.

Strong lobbying by environmental activists and poor countries, particularly from Africa, which remained dumping grounds of toxic and hazardous wastes in the guise of recyclable materials, led to an amendment.

On Jan. 1, 1998, the treaty banned all exports of hazardous waste from the most industrialized members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-OECD countries.

Japan, a member of the OECD, and the Philippines a non-OECD country, were among 66 countries that approved the amendment to the Basel Convention, now known as the Basel Ban.

The Philippines, however, continues to allow the entry of “recyclable materials containing hazardous substances” for recovery, recycling and reprocessing, but this is regulated by the DENR.

Wastes allowed entry

The DENR only allows the following items to enter the country:

- Scrap metals including sludge containing precious and associated metals, ferrous and nonferrous scraps and alloys, and metals bearing waste arising from melting.
- Lead acid batteries.
- Solid plastic materials, including resins, waste parings.
- Electronic assemblies and scrap including circuit boards, televisions, stereo, etc.
- Used oil or residue except tanker sludge.
- Coal-fired power plant fly ash except those that cannot be used for cement production.

Environment Undersecretary Demetrio L. Ignacio said the DENR had been telling the DTI that it was “no use” negotiating on the wastes because of domestic and international laws banning negotiations on those goods.

But the DTI informed the DENR that “the terms of reference have already been drawn up by Japan” and that the Philippines can still implement its laws.

Japan apparently has similar terms in its bilateral agreements with other countries, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose members are working to ink separate treaties with Japan as part of the ASEAN-Japan economic integration efforts.

Threat of no agreement

“The JPEPA, we were told, was an all-or-nothing proposition, that if we don’t agree in one or two products of the 11,300 there will be no agreement,” Ignacio said.

“One of the most critical items in the JPEPA for us was the trade in services allowing our overseas workers, our health professionals in Japan, and that was very important to the Philippines,” he said.

“So the issue to us was: Do we stick to our position and not have an agreement with Japan that will be beneficial to our health workers and other workers and producers? Or go along with the DTI, anyway those products that are banned will continue to be banned and those products that are regulated will continue to be regulated?”

On June 30, 2006 or two months before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed the JPEPA on Sept. 9 on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, the DENR through another letter finally gave the green light to the waste trade liberalization.

Replying to a May 19, 2006 letter from Senior Trade Undersecretary Thomas G. Aquino “requesting for the favorable decision,” new Environment Secretary Angelo T. Reyes informed also the new Trade Secretary Peter Favila who took over from Santos, that the DENR was giving a conditional concurrence.

DENR conditions

The conditions set by the DENR were:

- The tariff liberalization will not compromise current and future laws banning and regulating the trade and entry of hazardous products.
- Assistance will be provided to the DENR and other agencies to enhance their capabilities to implement the ban.

Ignacio said the DENR was certain that the Philippines would not get the banned products out of JPEPA, but from breaches in the enforcement of laws at the ports of entry. “It’s a function of enforcement, not JPEPA,” Ignacio said.

“It’s such a naive thing to say,” said Tanya Lat, lawyer for Akbayan, which has been following the issue. “We are all aware of corruption at the ports.”

The Ecowaste Coalition, a network of 50 organizations, said the JPEPA has raised fears that there would be a repeat of the 1999 “waste scandal” that saw the arrival of a 6,000-ton shipment of infectious hospital and municipal waste from Japan at the Manila South Harbor. Declared as waste paper for recycling from Yugengaisha Nisso company in Tochigi, Japan, the shipment was sent back.

source: PDI