October 25, 2019 / 12:46 PM / 18 days ago

U.S. protests Thailand's chemical ban would hurt crop exports

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s ban on three chemicals used in farming that its government deemed hazardous could threaten imports of American agricultural products into Thailand, a U.S. government official said in a letter sent ahead of the ban this week.

Thailand’s National Hazardous Substances Committee on Tuesday voted to ban the use of three “hazardous chemicals”, including paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos, often found in pesticides or insecticides.

The ban, which will take effect on Dec. 1, would see the chemicals elevated to a Type 4 list on the country’s Hazardous Substance Act, which was amended this year and bans production, import, export, transfer or possession of the listed chemicals.

The ban itself doesn’t extend to agricultural products, but groups of Thai farmers protesting the ban are also calling for Thailand to ban all imports of crops from countries where the chemicals are used, which include the United States.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Ted McKinney asked Thailand to “postpone action on glyphosate” in a letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, obtained and published by local media on Friday.

“Should a ban be implemented, it would severely impact Thailand’s imports of agricultural commodities such as soybeans and wheats,” said McKinney in his letter, urging Thailand to maintain current maximum residue limits instead.

The United States exported $593 million worth of soybeans and $180 million of wheat to Thailand in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

McKinney, citing a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessment in 2017, said that glyphosate “poses no meaningful risk to human health when used as authorized”.

Glyphosate - classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm in 2015 - is also the target of thousands of lawsuits in the United States alleging that exposure to it causes cancer.

Thailand's ban on glyphosate and the other two chemicals followed a similar move in Vietnam here earlier this year, which also prompted backlash from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Bayer AG, which sells weed killer Roundup.

HIGHER COSTS

Although many Thai civil society groups welcomed the ban, it also met significant resistance from farmer groups who bemoaned the lack of inexpensive alternatives.

Farmer groups said they will appeal against the ban in court, and they said if it takes effect, they will also demand an import ban on products from other countries that use the chemicals.

“We won’t be taken advantage of,” Sukan Sangwanna, secretary-general of the Federation of Safe Agriculture, told Reuters.

“Thai farmers will collapse without these chemicals because of higher costs.”

Asked about the U.S. letter on Friday, Thai officials said they stood by the ban.

“Our job is to take care of the people’s health,” said public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

“It’s not right to force us to take what we don’t want,” said Mananya Thaiset, deputy minister of agriculture.

Editing by Kay Johnson and Chizu Nomiyama

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