03 June 2011 18:39 [Source: ICB]
Austrian capital Vienna is the backdrop for this year's Fecc annual congress
"My top priority," she explains, "is the representation of Fecc members' interests. I want Fecc to become the opinion-maker in our industry and represent members in front of the EU institutions. We will strive for unity and to speak with one voice, so that we are really heard by the institutions."
In addition, she says: "We will work with other associations - representing chemical producers and downstream industries - when there are issues that concern all of us. Clearly, we can join forces if specific concerns go across the entire supply chain, and thus be taken more seriously." This is not to say that Fecc will not stand up for chemical distributors when they have issues of specific concern to them, or where they may have slightly differing views or focus than other sectors. "Some proposals might hit members harder [than other sectors] and in this case we will respond on our own terms," she affirms.
The association has been growing in membership (see box) and impact in recent years and now represents some 1,500 companies with 31,000 employees. Fecc calculates that member companies ship 20m tonnes of materials in 6m shipments and represent an industry turnover of some €25bn ($36bn). They boast around 1m customers across Europe and increasingly overseas.
Given this scale and extent of distribution operations, a second major priority for Jensen-Korte is to boost the industry's commitment to Responsible Care and thus improve safety, health and environmental (SHE) standards and strengthen the sustainability of the sector.
"We will promote Responsible Care at national association level and at EU level," she declares. "Fecc is convinced that the continued promotion of Responsible Care is an asset for our sector not only because it improves performance, but because it enhances public perception."
Last year, Fecc re-established the Responsible Care committee to strengthen and coordinate the initiative with national associations and member companies. It also moved to implement the new European Responsible Care programme, agreed with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) in 2009.
"This is built around the eight guiding principles and incorporates third-party verification and is a little more demanding than in some countries."
The European programme is important, explains Jensen-Korte, as it enables companies in countries without national associations to commit themselves to Responsible Care. It also allows companies operating in multiple countries to implement a single Responsible Care programme, if they are authorized by the respective national associations to apply the program. To strengthen Responsible Care implementation among members, the committee has agreed a set of goals for 2015. These include raising the percentage of Fecc national association members belonging to Responsible Care from 40% to 50%; seeing that at least 90% of key performance indicators are reported (currently 85%); and ensuring that 90%, and preferably 100%, of Responsible Care companies have improvement plans in place. The current proportion is just 74%.
Besides Responsible Care and representing members' views, keeping them up to speed with the EU's Reach chemicals policy and its Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation is an ongoing priority for Fecc. "It is undeniable that these have played a starring role, making them a top priority for Fecc," says Jensen-Korte. Fecc has been especially active in the Directors' Contact Group (DCG) established by the European Commission; the monitoring of Reach reviews; and participation in Partner Expert Groups (PEGs) for the revision of the European Chemical Agency's (ECHA) guidance documents.
The 2010 deadline for registration of substances produced at more than 1,000 tonnes/year, and of certain substances with specific properties at a lower tonnage range, passed relatively smoothly for the industry as a whole. But the June 2013 (100 tonne) and June 2018 (1 tonne) deadlines, which will bring many more substances and companies into Reach, are looming and may cause greater workload and concern.
One of the big issues at present, explains Jensen-Korte, is the design and provision of extended safety data sheets (SDSs) as mandated under Reach. These now have to contain exposure scenarios, explaining exposure risks and how to prevent them, which can run to several hundreds of pages.
ECHA guidance on the extended SDSs, in the form of its chemical safety assessment and reporting (Chesar) tool, was unfortunately only available in May 2010, very late for the first registration deadline. So companies, producers and distributors in their role as importers had to do what they thought best to comply with the regulation, without any previous expertise. Some developed their own IT systems, while some even had to fall back on manual intervention. The result has been documents of huge size and issues of communication up and down the supply chain.
"This really is a big issue and we need to improve the situation," she says. "We want to standardize the report format and get an easier and accessible SDS."
To this end Fecc, as part of the Downstream Users of Chemicals Coordination (DUCC) group, is working in the industry-led Escom XML group, which is developing data standards to facilitate the flow of information along the supply chain, by using standard phrases. Cefic is also part of this harmonized exposure scenario initiative, in consultation with ECHA. The aim is to develop a data exchange format that will link to ECHA's Chesar tool.
But the work does not stop there. Fecc is now preparing itself for the 2012 Reach review process which the European Commission will carry out and which will lead to a report on the first lessons learnt. It is also preparing for the next deadlines, which will be "very challenging" for the smaller companies and distributors involved, which are less experienced in terms of cooperating.
"Cost sharing, data generation and data exchange will be major issues for the coming deadlines, as will communication up and down the supply chain," says Jensen-Korte. The latter, she explains, was one of the major issues of the first round of registration.
She also expects the formation of Substance Information Exchange Forums (Siefs) to be an issue again but, she adds, she hopes people will have learnt their lessons on this aspect of Reach. On costs, she believes payments should be fair, transparent and non-discriminatory. "Registration can be expensive if new data are needed and testing has to be undertaken."
One positive note, she says, is that the European Commission has extended the mandate of the DCG to September 2013 and has included downstream users in its makeup. "This has proved an effective forum that was able to tackle issues in a pragmatic way for the first registration deadline.
"We presume it will continue to work to find pragmatic, practical solutions to facilitate and improve some of the procedures and requirements of Reach." The next meeting of the DCG is scheduled for 1 July.
Fecc represents its members in Brussels
Fecc has been busy in other areas too and has several initiatives now coming to fruition. For instance, April this year saw the launch of the revised Safety and Quality Assessment System (SQAS) and European Single Assessment Document (ESAD), which is being phased in over the next three months.
Fecc led and contributed to the revision of the ESAD questionnaire, to reduce the number of questions, improve clarity and scope, and establish a pre-assessment document. In addition, SQAS was revised to give more focus on the guiding principles of Responsible Care and incorporate important new topics such as Good Manufacturing Practice and Reach.
A key task now, says Jensen-Korte, is to promote the new system and its benefits to distributors and thus drive up participation in the scheme. Currently, the uptake of ESAD reporting varies significantly across Europe, with Germany, France, Spain and the UK leading the way, but with other countries showing much less activity.
"ESAD forms the basis of our third-party verification for Responsible Care," she explains, "and as Responsible Care gets more visibility and recognition by authorities, we feel this will drive up ESAD uptake too. In some national associations, third-party verification is a precondition of membership and Fecc would like to see this extended more widely."
Fecc has also been active in development of the Excipact certification scheme, which covers pharmaceutical excipients and aims to increase security in the supply chain, and has played a role in commenting on the proposed EU Directive on medicinal products as it was considered by the European Parliament.
For the future, Jensen-Korte identifies a number of issues that have the potential to climb higher up the agenda. "Sustainability, energy consumption, social responsibility, the carbon footprint of the distribution sector, and public image are all issues that are coming up. Some are already of high priority for chemical manufacturers, and will become so too for the distribution sector in the future."
Carbon footprint is certainly going to be a concern for transport and logistics, and corporate social responsibility is gaining more visibility among manufacturers as stockmarket analysts and stakeholders begin to rate producers' performance in this area.
"We are looking to see how much we can build on our Responsible Care programme to address some of these matters," says Jensen-Korte. "It already incorporates sustainability and we should have an edge on these developments as a result."
Association seeks strength in numbers
Growing the association's membership is a key priority of Fecc "for the future, as it has been in the past", says Jensen-Korte. "But perhaps this is not so easy these days. But we do need to extend the membership as this makes us stronger."
Her first priority is to extend the number of direct members from the ranks of European distributors - with those that carry out business on a pan-European basis the most |likely candidates.
The past year and a half has seen six companies sign up - VWR International, based in the US, JSC Ruskhimset of Russia and Belarus, Barcelonesa of Spain, Barentz and Velox of Germany and, most recently, Stockmeier Group, also of Germany. These take the number of direct company members to 36; in addition there are 10 associate members, all chemical producers, and two affiliate members.
A second priority, she explains, is to find out whether it makes sense for Fecc to help establish more national distribution associations in Europe in countries where they do not exist. Currently, Fecc has 16 national association members, covering most of western Europe, except Norway, and including the only two in eastern Europe - the Czech Republic and Hungary.
"We need to get more insight on this question and a better feeling for the numbers and type of distributors active in these non-represented markets. It may be that there are not so many national independent distributors and that the markets are covered by pan-European distributors. We are studying the needs and wishes of our members on this issue."
Membership will not be restricted to EU companies and countries, she points out, noting that Turkey could be a possibility for the future.
To further enhance the influence of the association, Fecc has just applied to join Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council that represents producers, as an affiliate. This will enable it to attend meetings, use Cefic's services and have access to its data.
"It will also increase the cooperation along the supply chain and strengthen links with the Downstream Users of Chemicals Coordination platform, set up in 2000 as a response to Reach," she explains.
"Cooperation with other associations is very important to streamline and bundle resources to give more weight on issues. But we will not lose sight of our independence as an association."
Cefic is expected to endorse the application later this month.
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