Japan’s search for an overseas site to unload the mountains of waste it generates is facing stiff resistance in Thailand, one of the many developing countries in South East Asia that Tokyo has been eyeing as a possible dump. The challenge posed by local environmentalists to this Japanese export gathered momentum last week as members of Thailand’s military-appointed National Legislative Assembly met to debate the planned Thai-Japan free trade agreement (FTA). Anti-FTA activists have joined ranks with environmentalists, since this trade deal, which was debated last Thursday, includes a clause that confirms Japan’s intention to ship unlimited amount of its waste as part of the new commercial agreement.

Thailand’s foreign ministry officials have confirmed to environmentalists the range of waste the country would have to shoulder from Asia’s richest industrialised nation. It includes hazardous items as slag, residues from incinerated municipal waste, residue from chemical and allied industries and hospital waste. “We will be victimised by these trade polices pushed by industrialised countries,” Penchom Saetang, coordinator of the Campaign for Alternative Industry Network (CAIN), a Bangkok-based non-governmental organisation, said. “This is part of Japan’s plan to promote the waste recycling business in South East Asia.”

“Japan wants Thailand to reduce existing tariffs on the trade of waste products, making it easier for Japan to send its garbage here,” says Witoon Liancharoon, spokesman for FTA Watch, a lobby group campaigning against bilateral free trade deals. “This waste is to be recycled by Japanese companies to be set up here as part of the FTA.” Bangkok is also under pressure to give up its right to stop any incoming shipment of hazardous waste, he said. “The investment charter of the Thai-Japan FTA has many clauses protecting the Japanese investor involved in recycling hazardous waste. Thailand won’t be able to use any protections guaranteed under existing multilateral environment agreements if a problem occurs.”

Tokyo’s quest for garbage dumps in economically weaker South East Asia is also manifest in an FTA between Japan and the Philippines, currently sent for approval to the Philippines Senate. The deal must not be ratified unless “all nuclear and toxic waste dumping provisions are scrapped,” says an activist for Greenpeace, the global environmental lobby. “Japan has to deal with its own hazardous waste within its own borders,” Von Hernandez, campaigns director for Greenpeace South East Asia, said. The convention adopted in 1989 bans all forms of hazardous waste being shipped from the industrialised world to the developing world.

Japan has behaved irresponsibly with Thailand as well. In 2002, it shipped 54 metric tonnes of waste, which increased to 334,000 metric tonnes in 2003, and 350,000 metric tonnes in 2004, according to Thailand’s customs department. A widely publicised case in Japan in the late 1990s was typical. Local communities in the Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo, responded in rage after discovering that their local government leaders had concealed information about the high level of dioxins found in the air and the soil. The pollution was traced to the nearby incinerators run by privately-owned waste recycling companies. — IPS