UK government to develop new chemicals strategy

Author: Tom Brown

2020/01/29

LONDON (ICIS)--The UK government is to develop its first new chemicals sector strategy in over two decades, an official said on Tuesday, as the country prepares to leave the EU.

To be developed over the next couple of years, the new UK strategy on chemicals will look at key government priorities for the sector, with environmental and human health, regulation and the circular economy expected to be key, according to Holly Yates, deputy director for chemicals, pesticides and hazardous waste at the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

“It is important not to underestimate extent that the government is serious about the environmental agenda,” said Yates.

The UK government is expected to begin a call for evidence in the second quarter of 2020, followed by a formal consultation on the draft strategy document in 2021-22.

There is little clarity at present on what the UK’s chemicals legislation will look like in 12 months.

The country is expected to leave the EU on Friday (31 January), with current legal and trading conditions with the bloc expected to remain in place until the end of the year.

With negotiations at the European Commission - the EU's executive body - saying that they may not be ready to proceed with trade talks until March at the earliest, UK negotiators will have a maximum of nine months to agree a comprehensive post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU, unless the deadline is pushed back.

At present, possible options include the UK remaining a member of the EU's regulator the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), likely to be contingent on regulatory lockstep with the Commission, or the formation of a UK Reach analogue.

A UK Reach is expected under the auspices of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for negotiation talks, with Defra to create the UK Reach system and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) expected to run and enforce it.

The UK's Chancellor - minister for the economy - Sajid Javid sent the value of the UK pound sinking earlier this month after stating that the UK would not be a rule-taker in its future trading relationship with the Commmission, hinting the government may be looking to diverge from EU policy.

"Historically, [the UK has been] in a place where we were tracking what the EU does, and going forward that will be less the case,” Yates said.

“We are moving into much more internationalist phase.”

(Clarification: recasts ninth paragraph to reflect which UK government agencies will be involved with the  UK Reach process)

Front page image: The EU and UK flags at the European Parliament Liaison Office in London
Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Shutterstock