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High-level U.N. talks on mercury treaty kick off

Kyodo, JIJI

Government-level talks began Sunday at the United Nations in Geneva on forming an international treaty to regulate mercury trading and prevent environmental and health problems arising from the toxic substance.

Government representatives from more than 140 countries are participating in the talks to craft a draft treaty. The talks are scheduled to run through Friday.

A Japanese representative at the talks Sunday proposed that the lessons learned from Minamata disease should be reflected in the treaty, adding that inadequate management of mercury and inaction on pollution led to the creation of the disease in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, in the 1950s.

The official proposed that the treaty explicitly require the prevention of mercury pollution and state that polluters should bear all related costs if incidents arise.

A draft treaty will require unanimous agreement. If a deal is reached, the draft will be formally adopted at an international meeting set for in October in Kumamoto Prefecture.

The treaty is expected to basically ban the production and trading of products that contain certain levels of mercury, including batteries, florescent lights and pesticide. Member countries will likely be obliged to reduce mercury emissions in air, water and land.

Mercury is used to refine gold, mainly in developing countries, which have sought financial aid from developed nations to cut their mercury emissions. Talks over the aid are expected to be bumpy.