Reach talks on track for partial deal this year

Government talks on the proposed Reach EU chemical policy reform are well on track to produce a partial agreement by the end of this year, Dutch presidency officials say. The latest round of negotiations finished last week. Presidency officials now tentatively forecast full agreement for around July next year.

At the third of seven working group meetings scheduled by the Dutch presidency, national diplomats and experts last week began a line-by-line scrutiny of Reach's planned registration phase. Discussions covered the proposed scope, obligations and information needs, including technical annexes.

A crucial question to be answered under the Dutch presidency will be whether to take up the British/Hungarian "one substance, one registration" (Osor) proposal, designed to reduce animal testing. "We could stick with the Commission's proposal, go with the Osor proposal, or choose a mixture of the two," a Dutch official told Environment Daily.

The talks now stand roughly half-way through a detailed consideration of the first three of Reach's 15 "titles". In addition to the registration phase, these cover general issues, data sharing among companies and animal testing. The presidency wants to get a provisional agreement on all three by the end of this year.

"We're still on schedule", a second Dutch official told Environment Daily after last week's talks. Others say if the pace is maintained a full council agreement on the whole package could be reached around the beginning of the UK's presidency in July 2005. The European parliament has yet to begin serious discussions.

The presidency will host an expert meeting in the seaside town of Noordwijk at the end of this month to synthesise key findings from all impact assessment studies done on Reach. "We want as broad as possible a view of the environmental and economic effects," environment minister Pieter van Geel told MEPs last month.

The Noordwijk meeting will study two recent controversial Reach assessments from German industry and the German government. A notable omission will be the three extra impact assessments launched by the European Commission as a concession to industry last year.

These are addressing effects on the chemical supply chain, innovation, and the new EU member states, with results due early next year. Dutch officials say their absence will not hamper efforts to reach a consensus: the new assessments are quite limited in scope and policymakers "shouldn't expect too much" from them, one said.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily



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