INSIGHT: Europe industry critical of Reach review

05 February 2013 17:21  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS)--Initial sharp criticism of the European Commission’s long-awaited review of Reach is entirely justified.

The way the gargantuan chemicals control legislation strikes at the heart of Europe’s international competitiveness has not been addressed in any meaningful way. Indeed, little heed has been paid to industry. The opportunity to clear up some worrisome Reach anomalies has not been taken.

“There is some wisdom in not changing a law that has only recently been adopted,” Lucas Bergkamp, a Brussels based legal expert on chemicals and Reach, commented, on release of the review on Tuesday. “On the other hand, there is a whole host of amendments that could be made to eliminate ambiguity, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the various Reach regimes,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the UK’s Chemical Industries Association (CIA) put it more bluntly.

“This five-year review which was supposed to deal with the anomalies has fallen far short of providing the necessary clarity. We urgently need the Commission to tackle the regulatory minefield so that we can all be clear on what the law is,” said the CIA’s director of chemicals policy, Joanne Lloyd.

“What we need and were promised from Reach is a piece of legislation that would encompass the many and varied pieces of law affecting working with chemicals making it easier for businesses, NGO’s [non-governmental organisations], trade unions, governments and others to understand and work with. Some five years after the introduction of Reach we still don’t have that.”

The trouble is that Reach is rushing headlong into a second phase which will encompass many more chemicals and many more companies. The Reach maze will widen.

The Commission promises some support for Europe’s smaller businesses (small to medium sized enterprises or SMEs) but there are deep concerns that this is either misdirected or not enough.

Reach registration is a complex and costly business at the best of times. For smaller players it can be particularly burdensome.

“This will have a disastrous effect on smaller companies who will be hit by the next round of Reach implementation which assess[es] chemicals produced and imported in smaller quantities,” Lloyd said on behalf of the CIA. The second Reach registration deadline – that for substances sold on the European market in volumes more than 100 tonnes/year - falls on 31 May.

The CIA said it will be setting out its concerns in detail to the Environment Directorate General of the European Commission and to UK MEPs (members of the European Parliament).

Currently, companies are concerned about clarity – how do substance authorisation or substance restrictions relate, for example, some concepts under Reach do not seem to have clearly defined boundaries.

As substance evaluation and, ultimately, exclusion or authorisation, is more widely discussed, further Reach uncertainties and challenges surface.

A Eurostat study gives Reach high marks on human health and the environment, the European trade group Cefic acknowledged on Tuesday.

But the group’s director general, Hubert Mandery said: “The jury is still out on whether Rech succeeds in its goal of enhancing competitiveness and innovation for the industry.

“It’s clear that companies operating in Europe get hit twice on the competitiveness front, as they are paying the whole cost of dossiers [Reach registration documents], which the rest of the globe can then access for free.”

Cefic wants the Commission to give as much weight to monitoring the impact of Reach on competitiveness and innovation as to other objectives.

“Policymakers should also consider performing a competitiveness check on Reach, taking into account the cumulative burden on industry,” it says.

Bergkamp, who is editing a Reach regulation handbook, points to a 2011 innovation study showing that resources have been diverted from research and development (R&D) towards compliance management and regulatory affairs. He questions whether data the Commission reports on patents and registrations of new substances “is representative for the effects of Reach on innovation”.

“The Commission is careful in choosing its words, where it states that Reach ‘delivers on all objectives that at present can be assessed,” he says.

The Commission makes a number of suggestions in its Reach review, including possible registration fee reductions for SMEs and ideas on cost management within the substance information exchange forums (SIEFs) that are supposed to ease the data collection and sharing burden prior to registration.

It says that Reach enforcement could be improved – although that is up to the 27 EU member states.

Some of those member states have expressed deep concern about the potential for excessive animal testing under Reach and the Commission says that alternative methods are being pursued.

“Although the report identifies a need for some adjustments to the legislation, the Commission wants to ensure legislative stability and predictability for European businesses," it says. "No changes to Reach's main terms are proposed at present.”

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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