Top players in the world market have moved against trade in mercury in recent years. Mercury is a key input in the production of artisanal gold and is highly damaging both to human health and the environment. When inhaled, its vapours cause irreparable damage to the brain and kidneys.

A report from the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University reports on the results of the Minamata Convention on mercury, a UN treaty which aims to reduce such pollution. The convention was adopted in 2013.

The European Union banned mercury exports in 2011, and the United States did likewise in 2013. But the result has been increased exports from Mexico and Indonesia, given the rising demand in illegal gold production in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.

Peru officially stopped all imports of mercury in 2015, but the illegal gold sector is importing increasing amounts through Bolivia. As exports from Mexico to Peru decreased as a result of Peru’s decision, exports from Mexico to Bolivia rose from 24 tons to 138 tons in a single year.