Implementing Reach "to cost EU industry Euro 4bn"

The direct costs to EU industry of implementing the Reach chemicals policy will come to around €4bn, according to an overview of impact assessments compiled by the Dutch presidency. The new estimate is almost double the European Commission's and could thus have political consequences as ministers debate the reform over the coming weeks.

The figure emerged at a three-day summit of EU member state officials in the Dutch suburb of Scheveningen this week. The presidency called the meeting to discuss an "assessment of assessments" ordered from consultancy Ecofys.

Report author Bart Witmond told Environment Daily that €4bn was the "best estimate" of direct costs based on findings from 36 studies carried out by governments, industry and environmentalists. He said most participants at the meeting supported his figure.

The main reason it is so much higher than the European Commission's estimate of €2.3bn is because of different assumptions about how fast cost-saving computer-modelled tests known as Qsars can be introduced.

Though several assessments have also looked at indirect costs of Reach - for example through withdrawal of some substances from the market - the likely figure remains shrouded in uncertainty. Mr Witmond suggested that current estimates probably overstate these costs because they rely on predictions by companies, which may have an interest to inflate the numbers.

Discussions at the Scheveningen meeting focused on measures to reduce the costs of Reach. "As it stands the business burden is too high," Dutch economics minister Karien van Gennip said. The challenge was now to "reduce costs in a creative, radical way" while "balancing them with the environmental objectives of Reach," she declared.

The EU must "think about our long-term sustainable economic development," she added. The EU should not shirk from adopting tougher legislation than elsewhere, but its regulations should be "one step ahead, but not ten steps ahead" of competitors.

Ms Van Gennip's views carry weight. Next month she will chair a meeting of EU competitiveness ministers with the aim of getting outline agreement on key elements of Reach - including the registration procedure that will give rise to by far the biggest portion of direct costs. Dutch environment minister Pieter van Geel will continue the effort at an EU environment council meeting in December.

The meeting's official conclusions include practical recommendations reduce costs: introducing a pre-registration phase, encouraging companies to share costs, stimulating the development of alternative testing such as Qsars, and reducing company bureaucracy.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily



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