Nations fail to agree on curbing asbestos trade

A unionist holds a placard after a demonstration to demand that white asbestos be included on the list of hazardous material of the UN Rotterdam Convention, on April 28, 2017 in Geneva (AFP Photo/Fabrice COFFRINI) (AFP)

Geneva (AFP) - World nations failed Wednesday to impose tough trade restrictions on white asbestos following opposition from countries including India and Russia, defying activists who demanded action against the toxic product.

Representatives from 180 countries are meeting in Geneva this week to review the UN-backed Rotterdam Convention on toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes.

There had been calls to add chrysotile, or white asbestos, to a list of dangerous substances subject restrictions that prevent the export of a product without the consent of the importing country.

Asbestos has become a pariah in most of the West -- most doctors agree that its fibres lodge in the lungs often causing cancer and other diseases.

The World Health Organization says it kills more than 100,000 people annually, but it remains a widely used building product particularly in the developing world.

Russia, a leading asbestos producer, has blocked previous attempts to list the product, as has India, a major importer and exporter.

The Rotterdam Convention secretariat said in a tweet Wednesday that the meeting did "not reach consensus to list asbestos".

Efforts to list harmful chemicals are complicated by the need for unanimous backing among all Rotterdam Treaty members.

"It has become a process of the past," said Brian Kohler the head of health, safety and sustainability at IndutriALL GlobalUnion, which represents more than 50 million workers in 140 countries.

"The only substances that you can successfully get listed ... are those that no longer have commercial value", he told reporters in Geneva before the decision.

More than 50 nations, including all members of the EU, have banned all forms of asbestos, but repeated attempts to list the product through the Rotterdam convention have all come up short.