There’s a lot of news lately about chemical safety and regulations. It is generally agreed that the list of controlled hazardous materials has not kept pace with current scientific knowledge, which has identified numerous additional materials that should be banned or severely restricted. But chemical regulation is inconsistent worldwide; what one country bans, another does not.
This inconsistency is one of the issues being discussed concerning the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a trade and investment deal between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US). It is a bi-lateral trade agreement that aims to reduce the regulatory barriers to trade. The objective is to cut red tape that both US and EU firms face when exporting and importing.
TTIP has been making the rounds between various affected entities, including Member States of the EU, the European Parliament, business and trade unions as well as consumer, health and other public interest groups. A big concern in both the US and the EU is that big business is calling all the shots. Further, there are fears that TTIP will bypass food safety, environmental protection and hazardous materials regulations such as the EU’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). This is simply not the case.
TTIP has been strongly surrounded by the usual political hue and cry that accompanies most trade agreements and regulatory change. It has been conducted much as any negotiations on such an agreement would be with the participation of numerous affected organizations. But this very deliberateness and unobtrusiveness has generated claims that it is secretive and undemocratic. Indeed, certain areas under TTIP are highly controversial, such as the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISID), which allow companies to sue governments if those government’s policies cause a loss of profits. However nothing has yet been finalized and the agreement is still being debated among the various constituencies.
As TTIP has worked its way through the negotiation process, each relevant issue is being addressed by the government negotiators. For instance, EU standards will not be changed or bypassed. In an interview with Klaus Berend, Head of Unit REACH for the European Commission (EC), he confirmed that governments and the European Parliament are central to the TTIP process and have the final say. This means that the REACH Regulation will not be sidestepped by TTIP, but that TTIP must adhere to REACH and other EU regulations and standards.
TTIP and REACH
During a keynote speech on chemicals in TTIP at the 2015 Helsinki Chemicals Forum, Berend stated “there is no intention to lower the standard of protection for people or the environment.” He explained that both, the US and the EU reserve the right to increase regulation and that regulators on the negotiation teams will not compromise existing regulations. In charge of the REACH Unit in the EC’s Directorate-General (DG) Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Berend is the EC representative to the TTIP negotiating team regarding chemicals, and is ensuring that there will be “no lowering of the level of protection for human health and the environment as established by REACH.”
Berend pointed out that one of the reasons for the regulatory component in TTIP is that there are multiple and potentially conflicting regulations that hamper trade in goods for both the EU and the US. However, while TTIP will seek to align EU and US standards where possible and feasible, US regulations on food safety and the environment are often perceived as much less strict. However, TTIP will not circumvent existing regulations
For instance, one part of the negotiation process underway concerns environmental standards. The EU has proposed to cooperate in the assessment of priority substances, including when lists of priority substances are updated, in order to avoid duplication and/or conflicting results of the assessment procedure, while leaving each side to decide on whether or not to take regulatory action for risk management. Again, US regulations concerning hazardous substances are not as numerous, although this may change under the upcoming revisions to the US Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). For example, currently the EU evaluates about 50 substances every year under REACH evaluation and screens many more for potential identification as Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) for the need for restrictions – in fact, more than 100 substances or substance groups are already restricted in Annex XVII to REACH. The US has a chemical work plan comprising 83 substances that will be evaluated over several years; under TSCA only 5 substances have been banned or restricted since 1976.
Chemicals Pilot Projects Underway
Right now pilot projects on chemicals in TTIP are underway in which some priority chemicals are being assessed by EU member states and the US regulatory agencies. Another pilot project is about the classification and labeling of chemicals. For example, the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) recently reviewed the EU’s proposal concerning the classification of anthraquinone and discussions took place on both sides concerning the classification of cobalt and cobalt compounds. In addition, the EU has proposed to seek broad alignment with the UN Globally Harmonised System (GHS) to ensure that the classification of substances and mixtures as well as the content of safety data sheets is consistent across borders.
A Chief Negotiator leads the negotiating teams and – depending on the agenda – up to 200 people from both sides can be involved. A negotiating “round” consists of a week of some 25 simultaneous discussions convened in either Brussels or Washington D.C., with all areas of negotiation covered at each round. One round occurs every two to three months.
“There could be many advantages from TTIP for effectively regulating chemicals,” Berend states. “Through cooperation between the regulators, there will be more information and better data concerning chemical substances.”
While stakeholder groups might appear to have been the initial driving force behind TTIP, the agreement was not initiated by industry, nor is industry driving the process.
HCF 2016 will be held at the Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre from 26-27 May 2016. Each year, forum panels are defined concerning key areas of chemicals use and management, with an emphasis on new challenges. In 2015, a particular emphasis was given to ECHA’s REACH and CLP deadlines and TTIP was addressed for the first time . For details about HCF 2016, visit http://www.helsinkicf.eu or http://echa.europa.eu/regulations/reach.
For details about TTIP, visit http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/.