31 January 2005 16:30 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CI)--The progress of Reach, the European Union’s proposed new chemicals policy, through the legislative process continues to put strain on relationships in the European chemicals industry.
Parts of the sector, seeking go-it-alone positions, threaten a common stance on the proposals to register and authorise many thousands of chemical products. The latest disagreements appear to have been patched up but others will surely follow.
The European chemical industry is expected to reiterate its common position on Reach (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) policy, later this week, clearing up a disagreement that had threatened to push the industry side off course in the great Reach debate.
Holes in the industry’s position appeared following the European Union’s public hearing on Reach on 19 January. Some sides of the sector were clearly supportive of moves towards a more risk based approach to initial Reach registration and testing that was widely aired at the meeting. Others stuck firmly to the industry’s, and the EC’s, original tonnage based stance. Industry trade council Cefic tellingly said nothing officially after the event. The reason? A spat between the national trade bodies that exposed sharply differing views on how far the sector could and should go in shifting its Reach stance.
A squall rather than a storm perhaps but one full of tricky implications. Germany’s large and influential chemicals trade association VCI suggested in December that Reach registration might be risk based linked to the sort of health and safety data its member companies routinely supply to the German government under long-standing tripartite agreements (that include workers representation).
Trade bodies in other countries reacted with alarm. The EC concept of registration based on tonnage is the best first pass at substance registration and testing they suggested. A more risk based system might be open to legal challenge and could overwhelm the registration process, they warned.
A point not lost on those involved was that German companies could be at an advantage if such a system were put in place. Chemical firms based in the rest of the EU may have indicated that they have the sort of exposure data, including product data sheets, that would help EU officials with the registration process. However, the industry generally has been, and remains, extremely coy about data provision. This comes down to the fact that no-one knows what data companies have and how easy or difficult it might be to collate substance data on the scale Reach might demand. The VCI proposed the provision of a wide range of data including exposure and animal test data at the earliest stage in the Reach process.
A compromise has been reached which is to be discussed by Cefic executives this week probably prompting a new position statement. Clearly, the industry does not want to move away from the tonnage cut off for Reach registration, the argument being that it will be easier to deal with high tonnage chemicals first and develop the process as the system becomes established. However, it has been pressed into action at the international level to develop a position which allows for some prioritisation. It is not yet clear what that mechanism for prioritisation might be.
As Reach works its way through he EU parliamentary process and the parallel work of ad hoc working groups of committees of the European Council, voices of downstream producers and users of chemicals are more widely heard. The employers federation, UNICE, took a robust and some suggest unhelpful position prior to the EU’s Reach public hearing that called for a major re-appraisal of the proposals which it suggested are unworkable in their present form. Downstream users of chemicals also are starting to push hard now for exemptions from Reach.
Into this heady mix has yet to come the full lobbying and publicity force of the NGOs (non governmental organisations) which hardly want to see the environment and public health goals of Reach overwhelmed by the desires of industry.
Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen gives an update on the EU’s Lisbon competitiveness strategy on Wednesday (2 February) in which Reach is likely to loom large. And Reach is included in an environmental policy revue update also expected this week. Just how much more friendly or potentially difficult Reach might in future become for industry could well be indicated then.
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