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United Nations: Talks on International Mercury Treaty Begin

(July 1, 2010) On June 11, 2010, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on mercury of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) completed its first round of talks on creating an international treaty to restrict the sale and use of mercury. Members exchanged views on the possible content of the treaty – based on documents on alternative structures and provisions circulated in advance by the UNEP secretariat – and agreed on a timetable to conclude negotiations by the end of 2013. (Daniel Pruzin, First Round of Talks on Mercury Treaty Ends With Agreement on Timetable for Deal, 114 DAILY REPORT FOR EXECUTIVES A-12 (June 16, 2010),
; Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee,
(last visited June 29, 2010) [has link to information on mercury submitted by 29 participant jurisdictions and 3 intergovernmental organizations, and 1 non-government organization].)

The talks were reportedly able to commence after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, in February 2009, reversed the longstanding U.S. position of opposition to an international mercury treaty. Negotiations are scheduled to take place during the course of five meetings, projected to culminate in a signing ceremony in the fall of 2013. In recognition of Minamata disease, a neurological condition identified as a result of a chemical factory's mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay in the 1950s, Japan has asked that the treaty be named the Minamata Convention. (Pruzin, supra; Wachira Kigotho,Environment Ministers Agree to Work Toward Binding Accord to Control Mercury Release, 33 DAILY REPORT FOR EXECUTIVES A-9 (Feb. 23, 2009),

In the view of Sheila Logan, program officer with UNEP Chemicals' Branch mercury/metals team, the June 7-11 INC meeting in Stockholm “provided an opportunity for governments to set out their positions and some initial decisions on how the treaty might be structured.” (Pruzin, supra.) She added that negotiations will begin in earnest at the next INC meeting in January 2011, in Chiba, Japan. The UNEP secretariat is tasked with drafting texts to serve as that meeting's basis for discussion. (Id.)

One of the most difficult issues the representatives must tackle will be measures to control emissions, especially emissions from the major mercury-generating source, the burning of coal. The biggest users of coal to generate power – China, India, Russia, and South Africa – “were the most reluctant to endorse the UNEP mandate in February 2009 for negotiation of a legally binding treaty.” (Id.) Other topics of discussion will include “restricting international trade in mercury or banning it altogether; control measures on the use of mercury, including in small-scale gold mining; and the use of mercury in dental fillings.” (Id.; UNEP Mercury Programme homepage, (last visited June 29, 2010) [Click on “Negotiations and Ad hoc-Open-Ended Working Groups (OEWG)” for information on the first INC meeting].)