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  Home News and events General environmental news International dumping ground?
International dumping ground?

Despite government reassurances, worries persist that a clause in the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement will pave the way for other countries to send their hazardous waste to Thailand, which, as TUNYA SUKPANICH explains, may already be occurring


Medical waste from hospitals in Sukhothai and Lampang was recently found to be dumped in other provinces.

The debate over the positive and negative impacts to Thailand of the free trade pact officially known as the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) is far from over. Meetings and discussions continue although the cabinet in January approved the draft in principle and forwarded it to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). After a debate on Thursday, a majority of NLA members indicated their support for the JTEPA, and it is likely that it will be returned to the cabinet with a recommendation that it should be signed by the government.

Up to now, the most contentious points have concerned passages on public health services or intellectual property rights, but toxic waste is also becoming a major issue.

Even though the negotiation teams repeatedly insist that Thailand will not be obligated by a clause in the JTEPA which apparently allows for the importation of such waste into the country, local environmental organisations remain very concerned. Now Japanese environmental activists have joined with Thai NGOs to demand removal of the clause.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia, FTA Watch and the Industrial Pollution Study and Campaign (IPSC), among others, say that the clause must be deleted to prevent Thailand from becoming an international dumping ground.

Penchom sae Tang of the IPSC said the group had done a study of the language in the JTEPA in regard to toxic waste and presented its findings to the negotiation teams and the general public more than a year ago. She said the Thai team did not take their concerns seriously and the draft was sent to the cabinet without changes.

However, she is hopeful that with increasing publicity and public support, the NLA will carefully review the information before sending it back to the cabinet.

According to the study, words like garbage, waste or hazardous waste do not appear in the agreement as items for import. However, they are implied under the categories of goods or merchandise in the Rules of Origin, Article 28 (i) to (l) of chapter 3, which are allowed for import by the Parties to the Agreement, referring to Thailand and Japan.

Government officials examine drums containing chemical waste dumped in a vacant lot near a school. 

The descriptions of items in Article 28 obviously identify that they are not normal goods or merchandise such as clothes or food. For example, Section (i) of the article describes items collected within a Party to the Agreement which can no longer perform their original purpose, which are not capable of being restored and which are fit only for disposal or for the recovery of parts or raw materials. Section (j) mentions scrap and waste derived from manufacturing or processing operations or from consumption within a Party to the Agreement and fit only for disposal or for the recovery of raw materials.

Searching through the Trade in goods: Schedule of Thailand, which specifies the Harmonised System (HS) of merchandise being imported through the Customs Department, the study points out that there are various kinds of materials that fall within the language of Article 28 which are already being imported into Thailand.

Among them are items which can be considered hazardous because of contamination with heavy metals. For example, items imported under HS-Code 2620, which covers granulated slag from the manufacture of iron, and might contain high levels of zinc, lead, copper, arsenic and/or cadmium. Also under HS-Code 2621 are other types of slag and ash, including residues from the incineration of municipal waste.

Under the JTEPA, Thailand agrees to cut import tariffs from 1% to zero% for slag, ash and residues from the incineration of municipal waste. Meanwhile tariffs on waste from chemical and related industries, now 5%, will be eliminated over three years after the pact comes into effect.

Last year, Thailand imported more than 483 million baht worth of items under HS-code 2621 from eight countries, mostly from Japan.

Japan also sent some 42 kilogrammes of clinical waste to Thailand last year, according to Kittikhun Kittiraram, Toxics Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, one of the organisations which is standing up against the JTEPA. He said that through free trade agreements there is a high possibility that Thailand and other developing countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, will be lured into the waste recycling and disposal business for Japan and probably other industrialised countries.


The study by the IPSC states that Japan has faced serious waste problems within its own country for a long time.

During the years from 1994 to 2003, the amount of community waste increased to 50 million tonnes a year, while industrial waste increased to more than 400 million tonnes a year.

Moreover, expenditures on waste management in Japan rise to 15,000 to 20,000 yen per person each year.


Because of a lack of space for landfills, on average 78% of waste is incinerated. It is reported that in Japan there are about 1,850 incinerators for household waste and 10,000 incinerators for industrial waste. Consequently, Japan's air reportedly contains nearly 10 times the amount of dioxins found in other industrialised countries.

The study also cites the waste disposal problems of the city of Nagoya, where the city administration has invested in warehouses to keep recyclable waste. Meanwhile, in many cities people are standing up against plans to establish incinerators or landfills near their communities.

This leads the environmentalists to believe that Japan may hope to solve its national waste problem through FTAs.

Meanwhile, Thailand is known for weaknesses in the management of waste of any kind, as well as looseness in the legal framework to do so. Therefore, there is a possibility that Thailand will be caught in the trade of international waste despite a lack of expertise and technically inadequate remediation facilities for waste recycling and disposal.

Greenpeace claims that the recent free trade agreement between Japan and the Philippines lists hazardous and other waste as goods for trade. "A village in the Philippines is preparing a landfill for Japanese waste already," claimed Kittikhun.

There is more reason to believe that Japan intends to invest in recycling its waste in other countries. A policy research paper funded by the Japanese government, called "Networking International Recycling Zones in Asia," states that the trans-boundary recyclable waste market should be promoted to benefit the nation's economy and environment. At the same time, it endorses bilateral agreements in which import tariffs are reduced or done away with to facilitate the policy.

It seems more than a coincidence that this is just what the JTEPA calls for.

Moreover, Japan has taken an international role in working against the Ban Basel, an amendment of the Basel Convention, which prohibits export and import of hazardous waste even for recycling.


When asked, the Thai FTA negotiation team totally disagreed with the conclusions of the environmental groups. They say that the waste problems of Japan, the research on recycling zones in Asia, and even the negative stand on the Ban Basel are the internal affairs of Japan and have nothing to do with the JTEPA. Moreover, they say that Japan cannot export any waste to Thailand if it is against Thai laws and regulations.

Dr Suphat Wangwongwattanaj, director of the Pollution Control Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said that his department had not participated in the JTEPA process at all.

However, he said there will be no relaxation of the pollution control rules to serve any free trade agreements.

He admitted that items identified under Article 28 had already been imported to Thailand from some countries, but said "the importation of those goods needs permission and has been allowed on the condition that it be reused or recycled."

Both Thailand and Japan have signed the Basel Convention, which requires that the importation of items such as described in Article 28 needs special permission.

Earlier there were questions as to whether this would still be the case following the ratification of the JTEPA. At the same time, it was asked if Thailand would be able to sign other agreements in the future, such as the Ban Basel.

Responding to the requests for clarification, the Foreign Ministry said that under Article 11 of the JTEPA, both Parties retain their rights and obligations under any international agreement to which they are signatories.

The ministry also reaffirmed that the importation of any items will be strictly checked according to Thai laws and regulations. Specifically, Article 28 will not force Thailand to open itself up to wastes.

"If the government wants to reject any goods or merchandises, they can do so. This is really up to the government policy," Suphat said.

However, to make the situation easier to monitor and control, Suphat proposed that the 10-digit HS code should be used to more easily identify any hazardous waste items. In the past, he said, some companies had disguised their hazardous exports under broad categories to avoid being caught.


Of course, Thailand has its own waste problems, both hazardous and non-hazardous, without borrowing from other countries. There is a shortage of space for landfills in some areas and growing protests from communities which are plagued with industrial wastes. The Pollution Control Department reports that Thailand generates an average of 1.81 million tonnes of hazardous waste each year, mainly from the industrial sector, and only 50% of it is disposed of properly.

The rest may be simply left at municipal dump sites.

Locally generated hazardous waste such as batteries needs technological know-how to recycle properly and avoid health and environmental problems.

Bandit Tansthien, of the Department of Industrial Works under the Ministry of Industry, said hazardous waste management in the country falls under the provisions of two acts - the Hazardous Substance Act (HSA) and the Industry Control Act (ICA).

"To control industrial toxic waste and prevent it from being dumped just anywhere, an industry must report to the department the amount of waste it has to be treated and disposed of at the toxic waste treatment facility. To counter check, the waste treatment officials have to report the amount sent to them for treatment. This procedure can help ensure that toxic waste is treated and disposed of properly," said Bandit.

Concerning the import of toxic waste, he said that it was allowed for recycling or reuse only.

He insisted: "We do not allow waste of any kind for disposal."

He added that certain kinds of recyclable commodities, such as batteries, are not allowed to be imported to the country. Under the Hazardous Substances Act, four categories of hazardous materials are listed with regard to import. Those in category 1 need to be reported, category 2 items must be registered, category 3 items must be registered and permission must be granted before they can be imported. Category 4 items are totally prohibited for import, export, ownership or use.

However, the environment groups argue that the control system effectively covers only those items under categories 1, 2 and 3, and there are loopholes regarding category 4.

Moreover, the emphasis of the current monitoring system is mainly on industrial waste from domestic industries, not that which might be imported into the country. For example, import and export companies, as well as warehouse operating companies, are not involved in industrial production. Therefore, they are not under the ICA, which is the primary vehicle for controlling hazardous industrial waste.

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