INSIGHT: Industry challenged by global initiatives

11 September 2006 18:02  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--The chemical industry has been notoriously slow at gearing up to deal with issues at the international level but times are changing.

Global initiatives to manage chemicals promise the sort of headaches producers face under the European Union’s Reach chemicals policy proposals only greatly magnified. The industry has its voluntary initiatives but increasingly these have to be shown to work.

Having established an agenda for change, the problems of implementation rear large.

The industry’s International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) meets in a few weeks time in Budapest, Hungary for its semi-annual get together. There will be the usual crush of meetings but a couple of issues at least will stand out; they are linked to the industry’s avowed global product strategy (GPS) and the potentially more troublesome globally harmonised system (GHS) for labelling.

GPS is the industry’s own creation, an attempt to develop guidelines for product stewardship and greater transparency down supply chains. The aim of GPS is to improve product safety and provide greater transparency on how chemicals product safety is established.

The pressure is on this year, however, to show that the industry means business with GPS.

There has been some work on the initiative but it is designed to improve understanding up and down often lengthy supply chains. Successful implementation of GPS requires closer engagement than ever before between the industry, its customers and other stakeholders.

The GPS was launched earlier this year at the same time as the United Nations agreed on its strategic approach to chemicals management, SAICM, and the chemicals industry revealed its Responsible Care Global Charter.

Both schemes challenge the sector to work in a more integrated way and to reach out to involve other industries in critical chemicals management debates.

As Reach has shown in Europe, once different sectors start talking, or are forced to talk, a host of chemicals management issues are revealed. If it takes the voluntary approach seriously, the chemicals sector has to work hard to engage and develop relationships with key customer industries in the great chemicals debate.

A potentially more difficult challenge at the global level, currently, however, is the drive to harmonise product labelling. The Globally harmonised system is being adopted in various forms to a 2008 target deadline but it points up the different systems in place for labelling and classifying chemicals in the main producing and consuming regions.

GHS is potentially bigger than Reach and illustrates the difficulties companies might face as their national regulatory authorities move towards new global standards.

The GHS may be a non-binding international convention but European and Asian authorities are moving fast towards implementation. The EU, for instance, has opened up its draft proposals for public consultation.

Firms in the US, however, have been warned that the slow uptake of GHS by US authorities could mean that they would lose out on lower long-term regulatory compliance costs and the benefits of a level international regulatory playing field.

Pulling all the strings together is a challenge for the industry as much as it is for regional and global regulatory authorities. However, the way is open for the sector to demonstrate that it can take the lead and help show direction.

Having been praised this year for its voluntary initiatives, the industry should aim for praise for their successful development.

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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