Trade Policy at Work

South and Southeast Asia Forum: Plastics Management

The first informal South and South-East Asia Forum meeting of the project ‘Business & Trade Connection’ took place virtually on a Zoom platform (due to related-COVID19 restrictions) on Wednesday 29th April 2021. Delegates of five out of seven beneficiary countries participated: the other two could not due to other engagements but indicated continued strong interest in the Forum and looked forward to attending the future meetings.

The meeting started with some introductory remarks by Rashid S. Kaukab, CUTS International Geneva, Executive Director. He thanked the participants for taking the time to join the meeting, amidst their full agenda, and briefed them about the objectives and settings of this new project phase.

Cyann Staub, Intern, CUTS International Geneva, gave a brief summary of the note’s main finding on the “Overview of Plastics’ Management in South & Southeast Asia”. South and Southeast Asian countries face multiple challenges in their efforts towards better management of plastic waste and a more circular economy. Indeed, Cyann pointed out that regulations on waste management are in place in every South and Southeast Asian countries but the enforcement of those policies is weak, mainly due to resource constraints. The note demonstrated that plastics are mainly treated like the rest of the waste in those countries. Without any segregation, it is therefore hard to recycle them. Moreover, she underlined the lack of resources (human and technical), technology and equipment that hinders the development of a recycling process, mainly due to limited governments’ budgets. Furthermore, the note showed that workers in the waste sector are vulnerable. Their health and life are at risk because of bursts of mountain garbage or surge of diseases through the accumulation of mosquitos. Finally, Cyann highlighted how South and Southeast Asian countries struggle with illegal trade. Developed countries produce a significant quantity of plastics waste and often end up sending their waste to developing countries. Even though the import of waste is prohibited in most South and Southeast Asia countries, mislabelling permits plastics to enter the territory. Altogether, she stressed the importance of plastics waste management for the environment and citizens’ health, especially in developing countries, where most of the waste ends up.

The floor was then opened to the participating delegates to get their views on the points presented earlier. All participants pointed out that their governments were making commitments to improve the environmental aspect of plastics usage. Some participants expressed the need to better link the plastics issue with other development challenges, like health, education, access to water and sanitation, etc. They stated that many constraints (human, technical, technological …) were hindering the opportunity to enhance waste management practices. Several participants emphasized the necessity to acquire new technologies to enable plastic recycling. The multilateral discussions were described as useful to find sustainable solutions and the need for international support was emphasised.

In the second part of the meeting, Leslie Sajous, Programme Officer, CUTS International Geneva, asked participants to share their priority issues of interest. While some had already sent their priority topics by email, other delegates’ points were taken into account and added to the summary list, which was showcased on the screen. The list of collected priority topics will be shared with beneficiary delegates for their amendments.

To conclude the meeting, Rashid S. Kaukab thanked the participants for their precious inputs. The note on “Overview of Plastics’ Management in South & Southeast Asia” as well as a list of collected priority issues of interest will be shared with them in due time. The next meeting will be scheduled for June 2021 with a focus on the preparation for the twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference. Meanwhile, CUTS will remain in touch with all participants and looks forward to continuing to work in a collaborative manner. Delegates are also welcome to approach CUTS staff as needed.