HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc135-6W
Mr. Clapham

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will seek the support of her European colleagues to press the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for a worldwide ban on all forms of asbestos; and if she will make a statement. [21857]

Mr. Meacher

The WTO applies the rules of the multilateral trading system. It does not itself impose restrictions on the import or export of particular goods or services. It is a matter for individual members of the WTO to decide whether such trade restrictions are appropriate.

With respect to chrysotile asbestos, the WTO's Appellate Body reached a decision in March 2001 which upheld the French ban on imports of chrysotile asbestos, which had been challenged within the WTO's Dispute Settlement Mechanism by Canada. The Appellate Body found that in view of the toxicity of chrysotile asbestos, the French import ban was justified under Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which allows measures necessary for a range of purposes, including the protection of human, animal or plant life or health.

The Declaration adopted at the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, held in Doha on 9–14 November 2001, reaffirms that: under WTO rules no country should be prevented from taking measures for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, or of the environment at the levels it considers appropriate …".

The United Kingdom has in place a body of regulations to prevent and control exposure to asbestos. These cover the prohibition of its importation, supply and new use, the control of work where employees may be exposed to asbestos, and the licensing of removal contractors. Forthcoming proposed legislation will additionally require those in control of non-domestic premises to manage any asbestos in their buildings in order to prevent accidental exposure.

On 26 July 1999 the European Community adopted further restrictions on the supply and use of asbestos, through the Marketing and Use Directive, that must be in force in all member states by 1 January 2005. The United Kingdom legislation which implements this Directive (with a small number of time limited derogations) came into force on 24 November 1999.

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