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22nd Jan 2022

EU chemicals bill under fire from US-led coalition

A group of states including the US, Brazil and India on Thursday (8 June) launched an attack on the EU's landmark REACH chemicals law, calling it "potentially disruptive" to world trade.

The coalition of states calls for substantial changes to the EU's law on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), a major piece of legislation agreed by member states in December.

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  • REACH: arguably the most complex and hotly-fought over bill in the EU's 50 year history (Photo: Notat)

The bill is designed to cut occupational diseases through better monitoring of chemical products but needs to undergo a second reading by the European Parliament in autumn before final adoption.

Ambassadors of major EU trading partners the US, India, Brazil, Japan and Australia issued a statement saying that "trading partners uniformly agreed that modifications reducing the potentially disruptive impact of REACH on international trade and improving its workability would improve the legislation."

Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea and Malaysia also signed up to the statement which "called for the EU to use the second reading in parliament to address the problematic aspects of the proposal."

"Developing countries highlighted concerns regarding the cost of REACH especially on SMEs [small and medium-size enterprises]," the statement says.

'More risk-based'

The group of states, which foresees that its companies operating in the EU will be damaged by REACH, is particularly unhappy with the bill's rules on authorisation of chemicals.

The authorization rules mean for example that companies will be forced to substitute around 200 of the most toxic substances such as carcinogens with safer alternatives.

"Moves to require mandatory substitution or across the board uniform time limits would cause unnecessary market disruptions without clear environmental benefits," Thursday's statement warned.

"Trading partners seek a more risk-based authorisation process that does not dampen the competitive environment."

Parliament to face lobby

Registration rules for chemicals as proposed in the REACH draft were also criticised.

"Registration and notification of substances embedded in articles when no potential risks have yet been identified could cause many entities including numerous SMEs from developing countries to forego the EU market without corresponding environmental benefit."

The European Parliament is set to be lobbied intensely by diplomats from the REACH-wary states over the summer, with the second reading of the bill scheduled for October or November.

"The ambassadors pledged their willingness to work closely with the European Parliament and other EU institutions to help make REACH more workable and thus more successful," the statement concluded.

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