Canada keeps asbestos off trade blacklist: MP

ROME (Reuters) - Asbestos, the highly toxic fire retarding mineral, will not be placed on a global blacklist and will be freely traded for at least the next three years, a Canadian parliamentarian said on Thursday.

Pressure from major producer Canada and several developing country importers will prevent diplomats meeting in Rome this week from adding chrysotile asbestos to a list of substances recognized as particularly hazardous, Pat Martin told Reuters.

Chrysotile is the only type of asbestos that is still widely used, mainly in building products in developing countries.

“I can safely say that the initiative is doomed this time,” said Martin, an opposition politician who is campaigning for asbestos to be added to the list. Another source following the talks also said it was highly unlikely asbestos would be added.

The 1998 Rotterdam Convention requires exporters of certain hazardous substances obtain “prior informed consent” (PIC) from importers, a measure meant to ensure that poorer countries do not let in products they may prefer to avoid.

While inclusion on the so-called PIC list does not ban those products, it does highlight their highly toxic nature.

Consensus of all governments that signed the convention is required to add a product to the list. With opposition from importers including India and Pakistan earlier this week, a breakthrough before the meeting ends on Friday is unlikely.

Martin, a member of the leftist New Democratic Party, said the Canadian government -- currently run by a conservative minority -- was behind the deadlock as it sought to defend the country’s small but politically important asbestos industry.

“Canada’s defense of asbestos has nothing to do with reason or logic or economics. It’s all about domestic politics,” he said.

Canada’s two asbestos producers are in Quebec, the French-speaking province which has separatist tendencies, and both regional and national governments are keen not to upset the industry, Martin said.

“They call asbestos the tobacco industry’s evil twin -- they both survive on phoney research and intense lobbying and sell a product that’s a Class A toxin. Not to put it on the list is morally reprehensible,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Canada’s asbestos industry lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute, maintains its product is safe if used properly, for example when mixed into cement where its fibers are fixed and cannot be breathed in.

Martin said the failure to move against asbestos put the credibility of the convention, which meets next in 2011, at risk. “We have allowed commercial interests to take primacy over scientific opinion and that could spell the end of the convention,” he said.

editing by Elizabeth Piper