During the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee (“Committee”) meeting on 9 November 2007, the Members of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) once again expressed their concern over the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (“Regulation”), commonly known as REACH.
REACH regulates the production and marketing of chemical substances in the European Union (“EU”) by giving greater responsibility to industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. It came into force on 1 June 2007 and is being phased in over 11 years.
Concerns raised by WTO Members
Argentina raised a list of concerns at the Committee meeting which lead to the Regulation being particularly burdensome on small and medium-sized industries:
- Uncertainty about the workings and complexity of the Regulation and its use of ambiguous terms
- Fear that the Regulation may not be applied uniformly in all EU Member States
- Numerous bureaucratic steps that have to be taken
- Costs that must be borne by non-EU entities because of the onus shifted to industry
- Requirement that only registered products can be sold
Brazil, Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Chile, China, Mexico, Thailand and the United States agreed with the concerns brought forward by Argentina.
Some of these countries even stated that the EU is negligent when it comes to providing enough information, and claimed that this issue has recently been discussed in a meeting held in Brussels between the EU and Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group.
Response by the EU
The EU responded to the concerns raised by stipulating that the Regulation had already been modified in response to the comments received during the consultation periods and that all the required information can be found on the internet.
It also opposed the discrimination charges by referring to the equal application of the Regulation to all, including small and medium-sized European companies, and designated the European Commission as the authority in charge of the uniform application of the Regulation.
Previously raised concerns
This is not the first time that WTO Members raised their concerns about the Regulation. REACH has been the subject of debate in 15 previous meetings of the Committee, starting in March 2003.
Some of the previously raised concerns are:
- Special treatment for small and medium-sized companies
- Provision of technical assistance to developing countries
- Inclusion of minerals and ores in the registration process
- Requirement to register monomers used in polymers
- Creation of unnecessary barriers to trade
- Clarification of the concept “chemically modified”
Given the history of WTO Members raising their concerns about REACH, it is highly unlikely that this was the last Committee meeting in which these concerns will be discussed.
If the EU wants the Regulation to become a success, it is crucial that any concern raised by either Member of the WTO is dealt with in a prompt and effective manner. If not, the general acceptance and approval that REACH currently enjoys when it comes to covering the production and use of chemical substances may be lost in the blink of an eye.