Russia presents case for chrysotile

Pushes presence in asbestos ban talks

Russian investors are concerned their lack of participation in talks on a chrysotile asbestos ban in Thailand will jeopardise annual bilateral trade in the product worth US$30 million.

Romanov: Chrysotile is cheap, ecological

Vladimir Romanov, Russia's acting trade representative to Thailand, said the Industry Ministry has so far failed to respond to a request made two years ago by his country.

An official letter sent from Russia's Economic Development Ministry in 2011 suggested a joint working group be set up to study the chrysotile asbestos issue using documentation prepared by international scientists.

Representatives from Moscow and asbestos associations are also ready to attend, said Mr Romanov.

"We need to arrange the first meeting of the working group and decide together where we're going. We don't want to press the Thai government to use [chrysotile], but this resolution should take into account the position of the Russian side and not only big international companies interested in banning it because they want to sell their production made from plastic," he said.

There are two kinds of asbestos _ amphibole and chrysotile. While the former is hazardous for human health and is banned in all countries, chrysotile is banned in only 50 countries.

Asbestos is used to increase the strength and durability of products, mainly building materials, disc brakes and water pipes.

In 2009, the Thai Consumer Protection Board required labelling for products containing asbestos, and the following year manufacturers had to include a warning that asbestos may lead to cancer.

A study by Sukhothai Thammathirat University submitted to the Industry Ministry last year proposed that manufacturers be given an average of 2-5 years to adapt before a complete ban of asbestos imports.

Ministry spokesperson Nattapon Nattasomboon said the ministry will present details to the cabinet next month.

Russia is among the biggest producers of chrysotile asbestos, with thousands of firms making products that contain the substance, while the country is the only supplier of chrysotile to Thailand.

"[Chrysotile] is important for bilateral trade, as it's cheaper than other products [for Thailand]," said Mr Romanov, adding that it is also more ecological.

Vitaly Kisselev, vice-president of the Thai-Russian Chamber of Commerce, said there is no substantial proof the substance is hazardous to human health.

"They take data from amphibole asbestos and say this is chrysotile, when the two are actually different types," said Mr Kisselev.

A joint meeting in Moscow last month set a target for boosting annual Thai-Russian trade to $10 billion by 2016.

"It's a very important decision, and we need to do our best because we have only three years. That's why we need to count every dollar," Mr Romanov said.

Thailand, meanwhile, imposes 28-37% anti-dumping taxes for some types of Russian steel.

Bilateral trade reached a record high of $5.7 billion in 2011 before falling to $5.2 billion due to major floods here.

Thailand imports crude oil, steel and fertiliser from Russia while exporting automotive parts, electronics, electric devices and food.

Thai investment in Russia is worth $260 million including $256 million from Charoen Pokphand Group in feed mills and swine farms.

Russian investment in Thailand totals $40 million, with $29 million from the software producer Weblogy.

"We have requests from big Russian software companies ready to come to invest in Thailand. There are proposals from engineering and constructing firms to construct power stations here and in neighbouring countries," said Mr Romanov.

About the author

Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter