USA leads coalition to scupper chemical laws

Diplomats from around the world are asking the EU to rethink its controversial chemical laws which they say will disrupt trade while failing to protect the environment.

The Registration, Evaluation & Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) agreement will require chemicals produced within or, crucially in this case, imported by EU member states to have undergone testing and meet certain safety criteria.

REACH is designed to protect human health and the environment without causing unacceptable commercial damage.

Quite how it will achieve this has been the subject of ferocious lobbying by industry and NGOs and the proposals currently on the table have earned a certain notoriety by claiming the dubious honour of being the most complicated piece of legislation to have ever come out of Brussels.

Now a third lobby group has entered the fray, led by the USA and made up of representatives from the diplomatic missions of a dozen countries including Canada, Australia, Japan, Australia, India, South Africa and Brazil.

The coalition claims it has concerns about the workability of REACH and its likely impact on international trade.

In a joint statement the diplomats said they felt REACH could lead to products being taken off the market not due to environmental or health concerns but simply because it was too costly to jump through the EU's hoops.

Developing countries would be particularly hard hit, they claimed, saying they would face grave consequences and SMEs in particular would find it impossible to pay registration fees.

While the EU itself has so far remained silent on the matter, environmental NGO WWF has dismissed the diplomatic request as ill-informed and out of date.

It points to a recent report published by the European Parliament's Development Committee which claims the vast majority of the costs will be shouldered not by local SMEs or the countries themselves but by the large multinationals exporting bulk chemicals.

The report estimates the costs to companies operating in developing countries would be 50m Euro over 11 years - a small fraction of probable profits.

It also says REACH would make it easier for developing countries which currently lack a legislative framework to regulate the risks from chemicals within their own boarders as data on potential hazards would become publicly available after substances had been registered with the EU.

REACH is due for a second reading by the European Parliament in late October and the lobbying is likely to carry on unabated until the agreement comes into force next spring.

Sam Bond



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