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Charest pilloried over asbestos exports at Delhi summit Add to ...

Premier Jean Charest maintains he can do nothing to protect workers in India who are exposed to the health risks of asbestos mined in Quebec.

But that didn't stop the Quebec Pemier from trumpeting his province's environmental and sustainable development initiatives during a visit to Delhi on Friday.

Speaking to delegates attending the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, Mr. Charest stressed that federated states like Quebec can have an influence in the fight against climate change.

But later, during a news conference, the Premier said there were no means available to him to prevent the export of asbestos to India, where it has been linked to the health problems of workers.

For the second time in a week, unions and other groups called on Mr. Charest to put a halt to the export of the cancer-linked material, which is used in construction.

In front of the hotel where the conference was being held, Anup Srivastava of the Building and Wood Workers International union said asbestos is far from being a product that contributes to sustainable development.

"We are here before the summit of sustainable development and we're talking about environmental questions," he said.

"(But) I think the message is clear: asbestos is not green."

After his speech to delegates, Mr. Charest refused to elaborate on the possible contradiction between his environmental positions and his actions on the asbestos file.

The Premier limited himself to saying that the responsibility comes back to the Indian government.

"We have taken all our responsibilities, we've put in place standards and have promoted them," he said.

"There's a limit as to what we can do," he said. "It was up to the Indian government to put these standards in place."

Mr. Srivastava said demands had been made to the Indian government and to certain states to try to obtain a ban on asbestos, as is the case in other countries.

But the union representative, whose organization represents two million workers, said the effort isn't easy.

Mr. Srivastava said simply stopping exports of asbestos would allow the issue to be resolved more quickly.

"It's a struggle that promises to be a long one," he said. "India is a huge democracy with a large population, and it's a long, long fight."

Mr. Srivastava said Quebec was the second-biggest exporter of asbestos to India behind Russia.

Earlier this week, Mr. Charest was confronted for the first time by members of an Indian workers' union during a news conference in Mumbai.

He is in India on a week-long economic mission.

The Trade Union Centre of India estimates that close to 25 per cent of Indian workers exposed to asbestos dust develop lung diseases such as asbestosis.

The country's national trade union also noted that 94 per cent of jobs in India are "small-scale employment" where it's difficult to get standards respected.

In his speech to delegates at Friday's summit, Mr. Charest reflected on the recent Copenhagen Conference on climate change and underlined the contribution of federated states.

Mr. Charest explained that the U.S. and Canadian governments have been reluctant to establish more strict standards to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

However, he said the Western Climate Initiative - which groups together 15 American states and Canadian provinces, including Quebec - have taken measures.

"During the past few years, we, as regional governments, have stopped defining our future according to our borders and territories, but rather as a single ecosystem - a single region," he said.

The Premier insisted on maintaining new emission standards imposed on vehicles. The measures recently put Quebec at odds with the federal government, which has accused the province of going it alone.

Mr. Charest was applauded by delegates when he declared that Quebec has set the most ambitious targets in North America to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

On the eve of the last day of his economic mission, 10 new business and training agreements were announced between Indian and Quebec partners.

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