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International Trade in Hazardous Chemicals (PIC)

The dramatic growth in chemicals production and trade has raised concern about the potential risks posed by hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Countries lacking adequate infrastructure and capacity to monitor the import and use of these chemicals are particularly vulnerable.

In response to these concerns, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined their initiatives, which finally have led to the adoption of the Rotterdam Convention.

Rotterdam Convention

Two UN organisations started developing and promoting voluntary information-exchange programmes on dangerous chemicals and pesticides in the mid 1980's. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched its 'International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides' in 1985 and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set up the 'London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade' in 1987. In 1989, the two organisations jointly introduced the voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure into these two instruments. This way, governments got the necessary information enabling them to assess the risks of hazardous chemicals and to take informed decisions on their future import.

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit adopted Chapter 19 of Agenda 21, calling for a legally binding instrument on the PIC procedure by the year 2000. So talks between FAO and UNEP started in 1996 and finally led in March 1998 to the finalisation of the text of the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. The Convention was adopted and opened for signature at a Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Rotterdam on 10 September 1998 and entered into force on 24 February 2004 (see also www.pic.int).

The objectives of the Rotterdam Convention

The aim of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade is to promote shared responsibility and co-operative efforts among the Parties in the international trade of dangerous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm and to contribute to their environmentally sound use, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.

These objectives are particularly important for developing countries that may lack capacity in chemicals management.

The basic principle

The basic principle of the Convention is that the export of a banned or severely restricted chemical that is included in Annex III to the Convention can only take place with the prior informed consent (PIC) of the importing Party.

Prior to any application of this mechanism certain procedural steps have to be followed and a number of requirements have to be met. Provided that certain criteria are fulfilled, a chemical that has been banned or severely restricted by at least two Parties belonging to different geographic regions (Parties are obliged to notify all such domestic bans/severe restrictions) may be added to Annex III. A procedure is established for formally obtaining and making known the decisions of importing countries as to whether they wish to receive future shipments of listed chemicals and for ensuring compliance with these decisions by exporting countries.

Regulation on export and import

Regulation (EU) No 649/2012 of the European Parliament and the Council of 4 July 2012 concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals is the latest in a series of measures over the years that seek to address international trade with hazardous chemicals.

The Regulation reaffirms the Union’s commitment towards ensuring proper control in the trade and use of hazardous chemicals at the global level, based on the principle that it should help to protect human health and the environment beyond its borders as well as within.

Note: the United Kingdom has withdrawn from the European Union on the 31 January 2020. However, in accordance with the withdrawal agreement, the United Kingdom continues to comply with the PIC Regulation until the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). After the transition period, the PIC Regulation will be implemented in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement, as well as the rules applicable to Northern Ireland.

Details of the consequences of the Withdrawal Agreement and of the rules applicable to Northern Ireland on the implementation of the PIC Regulation have been outlined in a Brexit readiness notice on Export and import of hazardous chemicals (“prior informed consent”) published by the Commission at the following link:

https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/export-import-hazardous-chemicals-prior-informed-consent

Key players

The European Commission

Regulation (EU) No 649/2012 on the export and import of dangerous chemicals provides for a number of obligations to the Commission. The Commission is the common designated authority (DNA) for the EU for all the administrative functions of the Convention: it submits notifications of final regulatory action banning or severely restricting chemicals; it establishes EU import decisions, it sends and receives export notifications and co-ordinates EU input on technical issues related to the Convention, including participation at the Conference of the Parties and the Chemicals Review Committee.

DG Environment has overall responsibility within the Commission and is supported by ECHA in several tasks that are fundamental to the effective operation of the legislation.

European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)

ECHA is responsible for administrative and technical tasks related to the implementation of the PIC Regulation and provide scientific and technical guidance to industry, the designated national authorities (DNAs) from the EU Member States and from third countries, and the European Commission. ECHA administers the export notification procedure and the related database ePIC.

ECHA also provides the Secretariat for and manages the Forum for Exchange of Information on Enforcement, which coordinates a network of the Member States’ authorities responsible for enforcement.

More information is available on the ECHA website:

https://echa.europa.eu/regulations/prior-informed-consent/understanding-pic

Member States and their Designated National Authorities

In line with the Convention, each Party shall designate one or more national authorities (DNA) to act on its behalf with regard to the performance of the administrative functions required by this Convention. The DNAs serve as the focal point in the respective country for the dissemination of information concerning the provisions of the Convention to the relevant government departments, as well as to other partners such as exporting and importing industries and customs, and to the Commission.

Member States are also responsible for control and enforcement matters. They are required to report on their activities in this regard.

Member States and their Custom Authorities

The Member States have to designate authorities such as customs offices to control imports and exports of chemicals listed in Annex I. They and the Commission shall co-ordinate their enforcement activities in relation to exporters. Member States will have to regularly report on such activities. Regulation (EU) No 649/2012 provides for measures to assist customs control.

ePIC

ePIC is the IT tool which has been established and is maintained by ECHA to ensure that requirements under the PIC Regulation are supported by appropriate IT systems. ePIC has four independent interfaces, one dedicated to industry users, one to authority users (ECHA, DNAs and the Commission), one for customs officers and one for national enforcement authorities. It allows information to be securely exchanged between relevant users, and provides users with the necessary information to perform their tasks.

This tool is fundamental for the smooth implementation of the Regulation, particularly as regards the export notification procedure and the explicit consent procedure.