Corruption stalls government attempts to curb CFC trade
China in the World | Environment
Scheming businessmen in Eastern China’s Zhejiang Province routinely submit bogus paperwork, use false labeling techniques and tip-off customs officers to grow China’s booming illegal trade in ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) who caught traders red-handed during recent investigations.
“We were shocked by the blatant disregard of the Chinese traders for the restrictions placed on CFCs,” says Dr. Ezra Clark, Head of EIA’s Ozone Layer Campaign in a press release accompanying the release of a new report, Under the Counter. The report exposes how CFC exports have soared 8-fold in China since 1996 and blames traders that nonchalantly sidestep environmental law.
China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of ozone depleting substances (ODS), introduced a four-certificate framework to control the ‘three illegals’ (production, consumption and trade) during 2004. But EIA claims that its under-cover investigators were offered “more than 12% of the entire quantity of CFCs available to China for all its export and for stockpiling in 2006.”
Eager to cash in on quick sales and mindful of losing their illicit booty, worried clients are reassured by smooth-talking representatives. One such dealer, employed by Hangzhou Sporlan, claimed that his ring of contacts could offer full knowledge of SEPA’s inspection timetable. “Someone will tell us when the inspectors [from SEPA] will be….we know someone there and they’ll tell us. We will definitely have no problems taking it [CFCs] out,” he boasted to EIA investigators
False labeling of goods is also crucial to the safe passage of ODS to overseas markets across SE Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe; a tactic used by at least four companies visited by EIA who arrived posing as buyers from dummy companies. A fax sent by Hangzhou Sporlan that confirms an order placed by EIA investigators included the following paragraph: “As discussed yesterday, we will fill the R134a [a non ozone depleting alternative chemical that is not controlled by the Montreal Protocol] in the invoice . . . instead of the R12 [a CFC], but in the container will be the correct gas.” Representatives of Ningbo Sino Resource, whose illegal dealings were first uncovered by EIA in 1997, also recommended counterfeit labeling as their preferred method of proceeding with an order for R12. Staff there told EIA “We have used this method many times, using R-134a packaging, but in actuality it is R-12 inside.”
EIA applauds the Chinese government for curbing CFC production and its commitment to accelerate the phasing-out of CFCs which has seen the original timetable for complete phase-out brought forward to 2007, but says that “unscrupulous traders and businessmen’’ are fuelling the black-market export trade and calls for a full investigation of the firms named in the report. These include T-Chemi Trading Co., Yonghe New Type Refrigerant Co., Sino Newchem Import and Export; Hangzhou Chixinchem, Chuang Mao Import and Export and Linhai Limin Chemicals Co.
Investigators also allege that Chinese authorities are lapse in their inspection duties and “do not check if importers are licensed or if imports are permitted.” Clark warns that “It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye and pass the problem onto customs officers in importing countries.”
EIA, which says that original projections for full recovery of the ozone layer by 2050 appear to be “increasingly optimistic,” hopes the new report will prompt a response at a Montreal Protocol meeting taking place now in Senegal. The Protocol, ratified by China in 1991, controls the trade in ozone-depleting chemicals, but has yet to respond to the scourge of illegal trade.
Report by Matt Perrement 14 December, 2005