UK's prime minister Theresa May (left) meets EU Council President Donald Tusk in London on 6 April for Brexit talks. Source: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock
LONDON (ICIS)--Once the UK leaves the EU it should keep the bloc’s chemical regulation Reach intact or risk lowering health and safety standards, as well as damaging chemical trade with the other 27 EU countries, according to a member of parliament (MP) from the country's Labour party.
Geraint Davies, who sits in the UK’s Parliament Environmental Audit Committee, added that a potential trade deal with the US after the country leaves the EU would place the UK at a disadvantage and it might need to accept lower, unsafe chemical standards.
In a written response to ICIS on Friday, the UK’s trade group Chemical Industries Association (CIA) also said the country’s industry interests lie in keeping safety standards intact in order to trade with the rest of the EU, where 60% of UK chemical exports are sold.
As the UK embarks on a two-year negotiation period to leave the EU, stakeholders are increasing their pressure on Theresa May’s Government in order to keep Reach after the so-called Great Repeal Bill is passed.
The Government has already conceded that most of the EU legislation which applied in the UK, after 43 years of membership to the bloc, will remain practically intact and will become part of the UK’s legislative framework.
“I’ve been pressing for assurances from the Government about continuing with the current regime to provide certainty and protection [to consumers and businesses], but they haven’t given me any,” said the Labour MP Geraint Davies, pictured right.
“Once we leave the EU, we would be in a much weaker position to strike our own trade deals with other countries. Facing the US, for example, where they have a lot of chemicals in the market which wouldn’t be allowed under Reach, we’d be in a weaker position to impose high health and safety standards.”
The MP said chemicals was a key point of contention when negotiating the now defunct trade deal Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
While the EU’s chemical trade group Cefic always maintained that the high standards applied in the EU would not be at risk, arguing the approval of TTIP would help reduce bureaucracy as well as greater information sharing, the UK’s Labour MP has other view about the TTIP negotiations and how chemicals were affected.
Davies was the rapporteur for TTIP from the Council of Europe, a 47-country strong body which intends to promote human rights, democracy and fair trade in Europe.
“Beneath that very complex discussion about TTIP, sector by sector, one of the most difficult sectors was the chemical industry. [US President] Donald Trump has kicked TTIP [down the road] for the time being but the concern now is that if we face a bilateral, rapidly concluded UK-US trade deal [after leaving the EU] then we have working against us the desperation of wanting a deal, the shortage of time to get one and the lack of power,” said Davies.
“Because the EU facing the US is a reasonable match, but the UK facing the US is not.”
The MP went on to say the US own reform of its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) risks ends up being overwhelmed by the diminished competences of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the regulator which “doesn’t have enough power or money” to implement the regulation, according to the MP.
In its budget presented to the US Congress in January, Trump’s proposed to slash funds for EPA. Equally, his impetus to scrap two pieces of legislation for every new passed, even chemical industry participants warned the approach may harm the chemical industry, rather than helping it.
“My belief is that the UK Government should stand firm and continue with Reach. As soon as it steps aside from that to be able to claim some sort of independence, it is vulnerable to be overwhelmed by the US negotiating power and for us to be at risk to adopt lower standards which put health and safety at risk.”
“I’m arguing to move forward with the protection that Reach has given to the industry – the certainty they can continue to invest in the UK to export chemical to a regime they are familiar with and which consumers trust. The rhetoric and narrative around Brexit has been ‘take back control’ [from the EU] but the risk is that we lose control.”
The MP added that the current EU’s precautionary principle should continue applying in the UK post-Brexit.
The principle implies that where scientific data do not permit a complete evaluation of a product’s risk, for example, a withdrawal from the market can be ordered based on potential hazards that need to be evaluated further.
Withdrawing from Reach, Davies said, would put the principle in jeopardy, potentially affecting consumers’ health and safety.
Davies said the Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, in its consultations with the chemical industry regarding the future outside the EU, has heard from around 20% of them they are considering relocation to Ireland so they know “where they are” and can continue playing by the same rules.
Other players within the European chemical industry have also said the UK will need to play by the Reach rules if it wants minimal disruption to trade.
Soon after the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, the French chemical trade group UIC already said Reach should apply if the country wanted to keep the same trade terms it currently has, a demand heard from other players in the EU chemical industry.
On Friday, the CEO at the UK’s trade group CIA said in a written response to ICIS, that changing the regulations for chemicals, given the “existing commercial relationship with the EU” would not be preferable nor politically feasible.
“As a responsible industry with a closely linked trading relationship with Europe, it is not in the sector’s interest to reduce environmental standards,” said Steve Elliott.
“Rather than seeking lower environmental standards, the chemical industry will continue to push for risk-based and proportionate approach to regulation, as it does today.”
Additional reporting by Niall Swan