EU still lacks details on how UK third-party ECHA membership would work - official

12 July 2018 10:20 Source:ICIS News

MADRID (ICIS)--The EU Brexit negotiating team has not received yet any detail of how the planned UK "associate membership" to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the EU regulator, would work once the country leaves the 28-country bloc, according to an official at the Helsinki-based regulator.

Mercedes Vinas, head of unit for regulatory dossiers and submissions at ECHA, added that the UK's proposal was "completely new" and therefore it fell to the UK government to explain how it could work.

The UK's Prime Minister Theresa May said in March this year she intended to keep the UK under ECHA's jurisdiction.

However, four months later details are still scarce, including the potential financial contributions the UK could make to ECHA post Brexit.

“The UK government are starting to set out what that [associate membership] would mean. We have not received any detail but this is on the table now and it will be part of the negotiations. It is not for ECHA to take a position on this UK proposal - we need to leave this to the EU chief negotiator [Michel Barnier],” said Vinas.

“I expect the UK will explain this to Barnier, what consists in and, of course, he will listen to the proposal. This is something completely new, there are no precedents, so we would need to see the details if we were to work on it."

Vinas was speaking on the sidelines of an event in Madrid organised by KPMG and Spain’s trade group FEIQUE on how Brexit could affect the chemical industry.

“It [this associate membership proposal] has to be part of the negotiations. At least, the UK needs to set out what it will mean because there are still many details to clarify: I can, for instance, think of access to the IT tools ECHA has to financial aspects. The Council’s [the EU governments] negotiating mandate is very clear: 'no cherry picking' on certain sectors," she said.

Vinas stressed that it is not for ECHA to take a position on a potential UK associate membership, adding that as an EU agency "whatever the outcome of those negotiations, it will be implemented by ECHA: we are a regulatory Agency" in charge of implementing the EU chemicals regulation.

The ECHA official would not respond to questions about the UK’s government negotiating strategy, nor its strength to conduct the talks.

Theresa May’s cabinet presented on 6 July proposals which have been welcomed by the chemical industry but caused the resignations of ministers who favoured a harder version of Brexit.

According to the proposal, a free trade area for goods would be established between the UK and the EU post-Brexit, including regulatory alignment for industrial goods. Services would be excluded.

Welcomed by the UK’s chemical trade group CIA, the lack of details prompted an official from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, to dismiss the proposal as lacking long-term planning.

That same official, Jochen Muller, a Commission representative in Spain, also spoke to ICIS on the sidelines of the same event.

Following his description of the UK proposal as “three-pages-and-a-half” document lacking detail, he said he was hoping to find more clarity in a white paper due to be published later on Thursday.

“We just need a more forceful document, which the UK has promised [to publish on Thursday]. I imagine it will be a few dozen pages where they will elaborate more,” said Muller.

“What we have seen is, first, a document which gives some idea of where the UK wants to go – we need now to know the details. [But] we have also seen that inside the government, and especially inside the [governing] Conservative Party, there are different opinions.”

Despite that, Muller added that the EU27 were hoping Thursday’s paper would a “solid position” from the UK although the EU side would need to analyse “what’s feasible and what’s not feasible” to reach an agreement.

“We want to avoid a no-deal scenario,” said Muller.

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