INSIGHT: New measures setting China along the road to Reach

19 June 2009 18:00  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--Possible changes to China’s environmental laws are causing consternation among chemicals importers.

Proposals put forward on 21 May for closed consultation among various ministries look as though they could cause problems for suppliers to the world’s fastest growing market for chemicals.

The measures have been called China’s Reach after the chemicals control scheme adopted by the EU. They could introduce a raft of new rules that appear to be very like those adopted under the Reach regulation.

The EU scheme thus far has been a bureaucratic nightmare for producers and users of chemicals throughout the supply chain. And it looks as though the situation can only get worse as the full ramification of Reach registration, evaluation and eventual authorisation are realised.

Changes to the Measures on the Environmental Control of New Chemical Substances of 2003 look as though they will introduce various elements of Reach to China.

These include registration along tonnage bands, a system that underpins the EU Reach regulation; more toxicological testing; and classification of chemicals into groups that are seen to be more or less toxic.

Substances would be categorised as general chemicals, hazardous chemicals or chemicals of environmental concern.

An existing system of notification and registration of chemicals would be retained but more detailed registration details would be needed for new substances in bands of one tonne and more.

Generally, more data would be required the higher the volume of a substance sold on the China market. Low-volume chemicals, which are those sold in volumes less that one tonne, would require the provision of less data.

Like Reach, registration would only be possible through a Chinese entity and a joint notification scheme adopted to reduce the data burden and to ease the data gathering process.

According to the Korea Environmental Council in Europe, if a producer or importer has registered a hazardous chemical or one of environmental concern they will have to provide production or import statistics and a production or import plan to a “chemical registration centre.

The proposed regulations are seen as being potentially problematic for foreign chemical manufactures or importers because only China-generated eco-toxicological data would be acceptable for registration, the KECE says.

It is also concerned that the scheme might introduce China-only representatives to register chemical products.

The Chinese themselves worry about the only representatives rule in the EU, which restricts registrations to Europe-based representatives and not producing or importing companies themselves.

It is ironic that as Chinese companies struggle to come to terms with the complexities of Reach, their own authorities look set to introduce a package of measures that would mimic Reach in so many respects.

But this is a trend across northeast Asia, research published by KECE last year suggests. More Reach-type rules are on the way to being adopted in Japan and South Korea. China is some way behind but these latest moves show that it is intent on catching up.

It would be surprising if these were the last steps on the road to a China Reach, the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer suggests in a briefing paper sent to clients on Friday.

The company has advised companies in the run-up and through the implementation of Reach in the EU and sees challenges ahead for firms selling novel substances into China.

The measures would only apply to new substances and not to those currently on the Chinese register, according to London-based senior associate Andrew Austin. And it’s very much a “don’t panic” message, he says.

But for companies that plan to bring innovative new chemicals to market, this will be a tougher regime.

If adopted in the current form, the new rules would come into force in October 2010.

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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