Business can benefit from REACH
While Europe's efforts to implement coherent chemicals regulation within its borders have often looked like a battle of environmental concerns against those of industry the new-look rules might actually be good for business too.This was the optimistic position of Stephen Elliott, acting director general of the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) when he addressed a London conference dedicated to Europe's notoriously complicated Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) legislation this week.
The controversial legislation would present the chemicals industry with opportunities and improved credibility, claimed Elliott.
"That might feel a bit perverse right now, it feels a bit like the manager of a team that's clearly going to be relegated rehearsing his lines to say it will be good for the club in the long run," he said.
"But REACH will be good for business, though only if it's properly designed and implemented - and I accept these are very big ifs."
He said the EU regulations would have an impact outside the chemical sector and all kinds of businesses should be preparing for its arrival.
"Chemical manufacturing sits at the very top of every manufacturing supply chain so clearly the effects of REACH will go far beyond the chemical industry itself," he said.
"This is going to affect everyone."
Elliott went on the outline the potential benefits from an industry viewpoint.
REACH would improve information flow throughout the supply chain and consumer confidence in chemicals, lead to more consistent decision making, the pooling of knowledge and data on existing chemicals and the stimulation of new product design, research and development.
"That is all quite clearly laid out in the proposals," he said.
"REACH is also forcing us to talk to each other and that can only be a good thing."
He said there would of course be challenges for the industry but if it could rise to them it could come through the process stronger than before.
A single, coherent strategy and framework encompassing the whole of Europe would make forward planning easier and forecasts more accurate.
"Business craves certainty," said Elliott.
"We fully support the aims of REACH," he said, a claim that might surprise some of those campaigning for tighter safety measures.
"It's about improving the environment and health of Europe and its citizens but its also about enhancing competitiveness and innovation.
"It will replace exisiting legislation which has not always worked well and ensure consistency throughout the EU.
"We like the idea that a central agency will manage the system and decision making."
He also argued it was not an 'us and them' situation of industry drawing up battle lines against environmentalists and health campaigners.
"This is potentially a win, win situation," he said.
"But unless this works and can be implemented by industry the benefits for health and the environment will not happen.
"Therefore we all have a common interest in insuring that REACH is good for business."
By Sam Bond