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Lithium batteries cause international trade dispute

Safety concerns over the air transport of lithium batteries – and proposed federal regulations governing their shipment – has caused some sparks among U.S. trading partners, according to an article in the Washington Post.

A series of meetings have been held between U.S. trade officials and representatives of the European Union, China, Japan, South Korea and Israel, who are lobbying against requiring air shipments of lithium batteries and products containing them to meet hazardous cargo regulations, diplomatic and industry officials told The Associated Press. Foreign trade officials claim that the proposed regulations could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and disrupt the flow of goods into the U.S. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation disputes this number, estimating that its proposal would only cost an addition $9 million a year. Airline pilot unions are pressuring the agency to add the safety precaution because lithium batteries can short circuit and catch fire. They are also difficult to extinguish. 

Lithium batteries have come under suspicion in the United Parcel Service plane crash in Dubai in September 2010. The two pilots, who were killed, reported a cargo compartment fire and smoke so thick they couldn't see their cockpit instruments. The plane was carrying a cargo of electronics. Investigators suspected that lithium batteries either started or contributed to the fire.

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