From next January, France is to ban sales of cars and farm vehicles more than five years old because of the risk certain parts may contain asbestos, Agence France Presse reported, citing the Friday edition of daily newspaper Ouest France.

AFP said that the information stunned the car industry, which has said it will demand a one-year freeze on the decree so that asbestos-free vehicles could be identified and exempted.

According to AFP, Ouest France reminded readers that France's former right-wing government passed a decree in 1996 preventing the resale of any cars registered before January 1, 1997, on the grounds that there could be asbestos in brake discs, gear systems and cylinder head gaskets.

The almost forgotten decree -- which affects 20 million of the 28 vehicles in use in France -- comes into force on January 1, 2002, AFP said.

AFP said that the decree sparked an uproar at the National Automobile Industry Council (CNPA), which represents 67,000 car firms, garages and service stations.

"This is a total regulatory aberration because from January 1, 2002, there'll be 20 million vehicles that will be unsaleable," CNPA managing director Jean-Loup de Salins told AFP. "We're going to ask for a one-year moratorium," he added.

AFP said that French manufacturers stopped using asbestos in car parts in 1993 but there could be "several hundred" [models of] vehicles still on the road that contained the carcinogenic product.

"When we've got a list from the manufacturers of the models which don't contain asbestos that'll thin it down substantially," de Salins told AFP. When vehicles were identified as containing asbestos, the incriminating parts could be changed, he added, saying that many of them might have worn out or broken and been changed already.

CNPA representatives are due to meet Employment Minister Elisabeth Guigou next week to discuss the problem, de Salins told AFP.

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