27th Mar 2019

US aims to influence EU chemical policy

When the European Parliament’s Industry committee meets today (23 November) to discuss REACH, the EU’s sweeping reform of chemical regulatory policy, it is not only European lobbyists who are interested.

American lobbyists will also monitor events closely.

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American embassies in Europe were as early as March instructed to lobby against the new chemical regulatory policy from the highest political levels.

In a cable dated 15 March 2004, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, requested EU State Department posts to act against the new EU chemical regulation scheme.

The European Commission proposal would create "an expansive new regulatory system for chemicals", Mr Powell warned.

"The legislation would potentially affect manufacturers, importers and downstream users of more than 30,000 chemical substances", he said in the cable.

"The impact of REACH goes beyond the chemical sector and could touch virtually all US exports (in 2003 – to EU25 154,1 bn $)", the instruction said.

Massive interest from stakeholders

In October 2003, the European Commission presented its latest draft to a new EU regulatory framework for chemicals, REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals).

The EU’s regulation of chemicals has been the subject of huge interest by stakeholders.

The proposal was presented after an eight-week long public internet hearing ending in July 2003 which resulted in a total of 6400 comments from the industry, NGOs, and governments.

Lena Ek, a Swedish liberal MEP and rapporteur on the European Parliament’s report on chemicals, said to Danish daily Information that, if she had wanted, she could have spent all her time "travelling and seeing industrial production facilities situated fortuitously close to attractive tourist places."

Each week she receives 15-20 requests for meetings related to the chemical regulation in addition to e-mail, letters and informal requests wherever she goes.

Not all lobbies are from the industry. Ms Ek estimates that 60 percent are from the industry and 40 percent from the environmentalists and consumers side.

Enterprises that manufacture or import more than one tonne of a chemical substance per year would be required to register it in a central database under the new scheme.

Registering a new chemical is, however, not the same as testing it, something which environmentalists and consumer organisations have criticised.

The new regulation would reverse the burden of proof from public authorities to industry for ensuring the safety of chemicals on the market, something environmentalist organisations have protested against.

It would also replace over 40 existing Directives and Regulations.

The number of "existing" chemicals in 1981 was 100,106, according to the European Commission - and the awareness of chemicals affecting health and nature is growing.

Since 1981, only 3,000 new chemicals has been put on the market.

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