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CFC smuggling key challenge in Asia, study says

by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) April 23, 2008
Smuggling of ozone-depleting chemicals in the Asia-Pacific region is much worse than expected, a study released at a UN-backed environment conference said Wednesday.

The study analysed the trade of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are controlled under an international treaty, and discovered wide discrepancies in export and import figures between trading countries.

"If you compare figures between countries trading in these goods in the region, you will find that there is a discrepancy... the figures just do not match," said Ludgarde Coppens, a policy and enforcement officer with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

CFCs are among a group of chlorine-based compounds that were widely introduced after World War II, serving as refrigerants -- in fridges and air conditioners -- aerosol-spray propellants, solvents and foam-blowing agents.

An analysis of CFC trade between key importers like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Iran, and major exporters such as China, India and Singapore in 2004 found more than 4,000 tonnes (4,400 tons) of the chemical were unaccounted for.

Nearly 51 percent of legal exports from China and 47 percent of legal exports from India into Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Iran were not found in the import statistics of these importers, the study said.

"Clearly, the problem is bigger than anyone thought before and action had to be taken," said Rajendre Shende, of the UNEP's division of technology, industry and economics.

The size of the black market in ozone-depleting substances has "increased dramatically," in the Asia-Pacific region with an estimated 7,000-14,000 tonnes of CFCs smuggled annually into the region's developing countries, based on a 2006 estimate, the study said.

The ozone layer screens harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun but has been thinning from the emission of certain chemicals including CFCs.

The Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances has helped reduce the production and use of the chemicals by more than 95 percent, compared with 1986, the study said.

But illegal trade has emerged as one of the major obstacles to achieving a phase out, it added.

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