Greens expose illegal trade in CFCs

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The Independent Online
A bogus CFC trading company set up by green campaigners in London has highlighted widespread smuggling of the banned, ozone-destroying chemicals worldwide.

The deception by the Environmental Investigation Agency shows there are several firms willing to use false documentation and subterfuge to flout trade measures aimed at phasing out CFCs, which consume the Earth's protective ozone shield.

The fake firm approached three Chinese companies, one of which, Ningbo Sino-Resource Import Export of Zhejiang, explained that it could alter virgin, mass-produced CFCs made in China to appear as recycled product - which can still be traded within the European Union.

"Frankly speaking, we are supplying F12 [CFC 12] overseas," said a fax from the Chinese company's president, Joe Koman, to the bogus firm, Trans- Cool Trading. "However, some clients ask us to reduce purity and make F12 like to be [sic] recycled for the sake of import licence. The above is our secret between you and me. Please do not leak it out."

The production of CFCs, used mainly in refrigeration and air conditioning, has been banned in the developed world for more than a year under the Montreal Protocol, a treaty aimed at restoring the ozone layer. Users are being urged to swap to more expensive but ozone-friendly chemicals.

Countries such as China and India have until 2010 to phase out CFCs under this treaty, but they are banned from exporting to the developed world.

Governments envisaged that the market price of CFCs would soar as remaining supplies were consumed and more and more users were compelled to switch to the substitutes. Instead prices remained suspiciously low.

There is mounting evidence that there are Chinese producers willing to export, and middle-men in the West seeking big profits in smuggling in the cheap CFCs. This summer the director of a small German company was charged with smuggling more than 600 tonnes of CFCs from China.

Some firms advertise cheap CFCs on the Internet. The Environmental Investigation Agency set up its dummy firm in order to approach several companies inside Europe and beyond which it suspected were involved in flouting the ban.

In the past few weeks it has received a flurry of faxes, telephone calls and e-mails. Some asked the right question about whether the firm possessed the necessary licences covering the special cases where CFCs can be exported.

Others supplied a price - usually way below the market price for the residue of stockpiled or recycled CFCs still being traded within the EU. One Chinese company promised false recycled certificates.

The bogus firm also entered into negotiations with two Spanish firms which, says the agency, are setting out to flout the ban on CFC trading. It also believes a firm based in Birmingham has played a major part in exporting large quantities of CFCs from Russia to the US.

The agency is calling for a ban on any sales of CFCs within the EU, and closure of the exemptions and loopholes. Next week government delegates from more than 100 nations meet in Montreal to negotiate further tightening of the international controls on ozone-destroying chemicals.

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