Bartering With Lives

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2018-01-13

'...Exposure to asbestos, including chrysotile, causes cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary, mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings) and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs)...

...more than 50 countries, including all member States of the European Union, have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile...

...Those include Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brunei, Chile, Egypt, the 28 member states of the European Union, Gabon, Honduras, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Mozambique, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and Uruguay. Asbestos is also banned in two States of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul....

..the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;..

...A major concern is that even where use is appropriately regulated, chrysotile-containing building products (e.g. roof tiling, water pipes) become damaged and release asbestos fibres into the environment during the course of building maintenance, demolition and disposal of building waste, and as a consequence of natural disasters. Such exposure may occur, sometime later, than the original (controlled) installation. This risk can be wholly averted by ceasing to use such products....'-World Health Organization (WHO)

Due to the allegedly carcinogenic nature of asbestos in all of its manifestations including chrysotile, as complemented by the findings of a WHO report of 2014, of which excerpts are quoted above, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) was set to ban this product, including its chrysotile version by this year, thereby joining some 50+ countries, as mentioned aforesaid, which have already banned the use of asbestos, according to the above WHO report.

Government establishments in Sri Lanka had already stopped using asbestos, including chrysotile, since last year. One of the principal suppliers of chrysotile asbestos to Sri Lanka is Russia.

Then came last month's (December's) Khapra Beetle fiasco, where this beetle, an invasive species, was found in a consignment of tea exports from Sri Lanka to Russia. This apparently led to Russia imposing 'restrictions' on agriculture imports 'led' by tea from Sri Lanka.

Russia is the biggest importer of Sri Lanka tea according to latest Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) data, which covers Sri Lanka's trade statistics for the totality of 2016.

Tea is also the island's fourth largest foreign exchange earner.

Data also showed that the island's total exports to Russia led by tea were worth US$ 182 million in 2016, of which tea comprised $ 143 million. Russia is also the island's eleventh largest export destination.

Nonetheless Russia, at least for that year, ran a trade surplus over Sri Lanka, with an export figure of $200 million. Russia was also the island's thirteenth largest import market in 2016.

According to a recent Industry Ministry statement, 'Iron and steel', 'wheat' and 'asbestos' have been the three leading imports from Russia to Sri Lanka in recent years. However, Sri Lanka's recent asbestos imports from Russia have been at low levels and have shown a declining trend with figures of US$ 33.87 million in 2014, $27.92 million in 2015 and $28.80 million in 2016. From January to August of last year, Sri Lanka's asbestos imports from Russia were worth only $ 13.57 million, it said.

These declines may have been due to Sri Lanka's proposed ban of asbestos imports, then.
The release further said that Sri Lanka has been among the leading buyers of asbestos in the world.In 2015, the four leading asbestos importers in the world were India, Indonesia, China and Sri Lanka (buying from all asbestos exporting countries), it said.

Nonetheless, coinciding with the Russian 'ban' of tea imports from Sri Lanka, the island lifted its proposed ban of chrysotile asbestos, for reasons which, however, are not clear.

Nevertheless, this newspaper in an article published in its 21 December, 2017 issue under the heading, 'Russia expected to lift tea 'ban' by mid Jan', complemented by a top strap line which said, 'After SL lifts chrysotile asbestos ban,' saw this prediction come true with Russia lifting the tea 'ban,' effective from 30 December, 2017 ('Ceylon Today' of 26 December, 2017).

However, the question here is, is trade more important than lives? Seemingly, GoSL believes that the former is more important than the latter.

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