ANALYSIS: Environmentalists give service pact warning

By Wu Po-hsuan and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Mon, May 05, 2014 - Page 3

The opening up of local environmental protection services to Chinese investment that would occur under the cross-strait service trade pact could turn Taiwan into China’s hazardous waste dump, environmental protection groups say.

National Taiwan University (NTU) professor Hsu Kuang-jung (徐光蓉), a member of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, says that the government is relaxing the definitions of several hazardous waste items to “common industrial waste” under the Standards for Defining Hazardous Industrial Waste (有害事業廢棄物認定標準) to pave the way for the implementation of the pact — which is pending ratification — and make it easier for Chinese corporations to dump hazardous material in Taiwan.

The waste items being downgraded include cables, transformers, electroplated plastics, computers, family appliances and electronic components.

Hsu said the move is an attempt to skirt the limitations set by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

Signed in 1992, the convention is a UN treaty designed to lessen the movement of hazardous waste between countries and prevent the movement of such waste from developed to less developed nations.

Taiwan Watch Institute secretary-general Herlin Hsieh (謝和霖) said the Basel Convention’s writ extends to all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations, but since Taiwan is not a part of the organization, the convention has no bearing on it.

If the cross-strait service pact is ratified under these circumstances, China will continue receiving global manufacturing orders and have Taiwan take all the waste produced as it fills the orders, Hsieh said, adding that Taiwan would then become the repository and processing plant for the world’s waste metals.

Hsu said the nation has already tasted the bitter fruits of such ventures, citing as an example the government’s attempt to clean up the heavy metals that polluted the water and beaches near the Erjen River (二仁溪) outlet in Greater Tainan. Despite spending NT$4.2 billion (US$140 million) on the project, it has still failed to remove waste metals from the water.

This is an example of the negative effects of taking in hazardous waste, as the nation did in the 1980s, with large amounts of waste metals, from all over the world, Hsu said.

The government imposed a general ban on waste metals in 1993.

The wastewater, acidic runoff and leftover slag from processed metals contaminated large parts of the nation and used up large amounts of electricity, Hsieh said, adding that as such, hazardous waste disposal policies would go against the government’s aim of attaining sustainability.

The unstable quality of service in Taiwan’s environmental protection sector, coupled with a lack of strong law enforcement, are of great concern, Hsu said.

“If the government cannot stop Taiwanese corporations from dumping waste wherever they wish, how can they keep Chinese corporations, whose environmental protection technology lags behind that of Taiwanese firms, from causing even heavier damage if the service pact is ratified?” Hsu asked.

Hsieh said that in the environmental protection sector, honesty is the best policy, but that he thinks many Chinese firms may not adhere to this view.

If the pact is ratified, some Chinese firms could lower their prices to compete with local rivals and employ illicit means such as illegally discharging wastewater to make up the shortfall, Hsieh said, adding that if a Chinese firm or investor was reported engaging in such illegal activities, all they had to is return home, since the government would be unable to do anything.

Meanwhile, Green Consumers Foundation chairman Jay Fang (方儉) said that there are many unwritten rules in the Chinese environmental protection service sector, adding that most of the companies in the sector are closely affiliated with the Chinese government.

Fang said he wonders if the government is familiar with China’s environmental protection service sector and if it thinks that Taiwanese service providers could establish themselves successfully in the Chinese market.

Hsu said that aside of the various concerns regarding Chinese investment in the local environmental protection service sector, the gravest is that certain procedures that should be under the government’s jurisdiction would be opened up to Chinese management.

Hsu cited as an example environmental monitoring, which if opened up to Chinese investment could cause national security and information security crises.

The construction of facilites such as sewers, harbors and dams, are also on the list of items opened to Chinese investment, he said.

“If all these facilities are built using Chinese funds, the consequences for national security would be dire,” Hsu said.

Responding to questions from the environmental groups, Environmental Protection Administration Deputy Minister Yeh Shin-cheng (葉欣誠) said the draft amendments to the Standards for Defining Hazardous Industrial Waste had no relation to the service trade pact.

The draft amendments are part of an overall change to the definition of electronic waste and are still under public consultation, Yeh said, adding that the suggestions offered by environmental protection agencies on the matter are being taken under consideration.

The service trade pact would allow Chinese investment in waste processing, not the importation of waste material, Yeh said.

Addressing the concerns about Taiwan not adhering to the Basel Convention, Yeh said that although the nation is not an OECD member, it still abides by the convention’s spirit and its laws are patterned on it and other international treaties on waste materials.

“We will not allow any hazardous waste to enter Taiwan and will step up efforts to ensure our agents crack down on the illegal disposal of toxic waste,” Yeh said.