France on June 5 called for the International Labor Organization (ILO) to ban asbestos all over the world. The proposal, presented to the ILO by Gerard Larcher, junior employment minister, is likely to meet with hostility from asbestos-producing countries, especially Canada, which favors stricter regulation but not an outright ban.

France banned the fire-resistant mineral, now known to cause a number of respiratory diseases including lung cancer, in 1997. But in December last year, the country's Senate said the French state's failure to act before 1997 could be blamed for as many as 100,000 cancer deaths in coming years.

Asbestos is now illegal across the 25-member EU, but worldwide only around 60 countries have banned it, some with various exemptions.

However Larcher admitted that his proposal ran counter to the positions of "a number of industrialized countries ... where asbestos still represents a sizeable market and who think that protective measures are sufficient."

Canada, the world's number one producer of asbestos, has resisted previous attempts to ban the substance.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006