Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened Canada with war over garbage produced by the latter which has been sitting in Filipino ports over the past six years. The garbage has been sitting within shipping containers, which were shipped to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 by an Ontario-based company called Chronic Inc., which is believed to no longer exist. Many Canadian companies and companies around the world ship recyclable product from developed countries to foreign countries for disposal. However, when the containers shipped by Chronic Inc. were searched at customs upon entry to the Philippines, authorities discovered the containers held household and toxic garbage instead of recyclable product. Barred from entry into the Philippines, the containers, holding over 2,500 tons of garbage, have sat in Filipino ports over the last six years. Efforts between Canada and the Philippines to resolve the garbage dispute has culminated to minor regulatory changes with the only solution found coming from Duterte’s threats to ship the garbage containers back to Canada himself.
Following Duterte’s threats of war over the garbage dispute, Canadian officials released a statement saying that the Canadian government is committed to finding a solution. However, efforts by the Canadian government over the last six years have been minimal. Officials have claimed that due to regulatory hurdles, Canada cannot allow the containers to be received back into Canada, even though in 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said that it was possible to take back the garbage containers. The containers have remained in Filipino ports due to delays in the commercial transaction component, which do not involve either the Filipino or Canadian governments. The bureaucratic delays on the part of the Canadian government have led the Philippines and Duterte to a breaking point. Filipino officials say that Duterte’s threats of war are intentionally dramatic in order to draw attention to the situation and speed up the resolution process. Canadian-Filipino relations have fragmented in recent years; in addition to the ongoing garbage dispute, a cancelled helicopter deal grabbed international attention. The Canadian government agreed to sell sixteen helicopters to the Philippines but wanted to ensure that they would not be used for counter insurgency measures; Duterte cancelled the deal claiming that any deal with the West comes with conditions attached. In addition, Trudeau criticized Duterte’s record on human rights and extra-judicial killings last year, further aggravating the Filipino President.
Furthermore, the Canadian government has faced pressure from environmental activists claiming that Canada has violated international law. International waste disposal is regulated and overseen by the United Nations Basel Convention, to which both Canada and the Philippines are signatories. Activists claim that companies are able to avoid the rules governing disposal by labelling product for recycling on shipping containers even though they are shipping waste. This situation highlights a growing issue around the world of developed countries sending garbage to developing countries. One Filipino official stated “No country, no matter how poor, should be treated as a dumping ground of the waste of rich countries”. Canada is the first country to be called out for its actions of dumping waste in developing countries and its response has been disappointing.
Despite pressure by the Filipino government and environmental activists, Canada holds negotiating leverage and will likely find a solution on its terms. Canada’s bargaining power comes from the trade balance between the two countries where the Philippines currently enjoy a trade surplus. Additionally over 500,000 Canadian-Filipino’s in Canada remit over a billion dollars back to the Philippines each year, which could be disrupted. Furthermore, the resolution process still needs to determine the question of legal liability and financial responsibility which will likely extend a solution beyond Duterte’s timeline before war is declared. However, with the outbreak of war unlikely, the garbage dispute between Canada and the Philippines does reveal greater environmental issues that need to be addressed.