19 May 2003 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]US diplomats are voicing concerns to European officials about draft legislation that would create extensive new testing requirements for more than 30,000 chemicals in commerce.
The proposed European chemicals policy-Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (Reach)-would progressively introduce a new system of registering and authorizing all existing and new chemicals, with a goal of boosting protection of health and the environment.
The draft measure would require industry to publicly provide basic health, safety and environmental impact data for all chemicals marketed in quantities of more than 1 ton per year within an 11-year time frame, or risk being prohibited from the market.
Chemical producers and downstream users would be responsible for testing, conducting risk assessments, and making this information available to a central database.
The proposal by the European Commission, which was released for a five-week public comment period on May 7, would restrict the use of chemicals suspected of being carcinogenic, reproductive toxins or that are known to persist and accumulate in the environment.
However, the US government and industry lobbyists have voiced harsh opposition to Reach, claiming the policy would cost American industries billions of dollars for the testing and evaluation of chemicals. Over 30 percent of US chemical exports go to the European Union (EU)-roughly $20 billion in 2001.
A directive to US embassies re-cently issued by Secretary of State Colin Powell charges that the proposed reforms would result in a "costly, burdensome system, which could prove difficult, if not unworkable, in its implementation."
While the US fully supports the EU's objectives of protecting health and the environment and acknowledges the need for more information on chemicals, the State Department is concerned that Reach could have "significant adverse trade implications."
The directive says that depending on how downstream products are ultimately addressed, US exports in most industrial sectors, totaling tens of billions of dollars, could be impacted by the new policy.
"The system could present obstacles to trade and innovation, possibly distorting global markets for thousands of products," warns the State Department. "The commission concedes that EU chemicals testing capacity is capable of undertaking only 25 to 30 percent of the testing that could be potentially required over the first 10 years."
The directive notes that EU member states will play a key role in the development and approval of any new EU chemicals regulation policy.
"As the member states will have the responsibility of implementing the re-sulting regulation, and as their own industries will be impacted, we anticipate that they will be much more sensitive to impacts on EU competitiveness, employment and other implications than Com-mission bureaucrats," the document says. "We understand that the German industry, in particular, is actively expressing its concerns to its government."
The directive says it is important that US diplomats "reiterate to the European Commission and EU member states our general concerns" before the commission finalizes the Reach proposal.
The department advises its representatives to convey the US assessment that the proposal's focus on tens of thousands of chemicals is too broad and lacks prioritization.
"We believe that regulatory resources should focus on chemicals posing the greatest health and environmental risks," the document says. "We suggest the exclusion or more limited treatment of certain low-risk types of chemicals, such as certain polymers and intermediates where exposure is negligible."
An additional benefit to a more focused approach would be reduced animal testing, the directive also notes.
The Commission aims to adopt its final proposal before its August break, and approval by the European Council and Parliament could come next spring.
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