On 9 November 2007, at ameeting of a Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee,WTOMembers discussed a wide range of new and previously-raised trade concerns related to chemical regulations. In particular,Members expressed concern over the EU’s new and far reaching chemicals policy – REACH (Regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) which entered into force on 1 June 2007.
REACH shifts the burden of proof onto industry to show that industrial chemicals and substances used in everyday products, including, for example, cans, toys, paints and electronics, are safe. Producers, importers, downstreamusers and distributors of chemicals both within and outside the EU will be affected. Failure to register substances willmean theymay no longer be manufactured in, or imported into the EU. Furthermore,many substancesmay either be banned or withdrawn fromthemarket as a result of the costs of compliance. The European Commission anticipates that it could apply to approximately 1500 chemicals. REACH proposes a number of timetables, the first significant one for business being 1 June to 1 December 2008 during which pre-registration of substance will be required by the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
According to aWTO press release, at the TBT Committeemeeting Argentina raised several concerns over REACH, including: the regulation’s complexity and use of ambiguous terms; the possible lack of uniformapplication in all EU Member States; the numerous bureaucratic procedures required; the costs that have to be borne by exporters, producers and users even if they are not in the EU because of the onus shifted to industry; the requirement that only registered products can be sold; and, in particular, the fact that these concerns will bemagnified for small andmedium-sized companies who may lack sufficient resources to deal with all the requirements. Argentina received support fromseveral other countries, including Brazil, the US, the Rep. of Korea, Australia, Japan, Canada, Taiwan, Chile, China,Mexico and Thailand, with some complaining that the EU has not provided enough information.
The EU reportedly replied that the regulation has already beenmodified to reflect comments received during consultation periods; and whilst some information has not been notified to theWTO Technical Barriers to Trade Committee, it is available on the Internet. Furthermore, the EU denied claims that the regulation discriminates against foreign companies because the same conditions apply to all, including small and medium-sized European companies. It also assuredWTOMembers that the European Commission is responsible for ensuring the regulation is applied uniformly all over the EU.
Chemicalswere also the subject of other concerns raised in the TBTCommittee. In particular, regulations on toxic substances, including the EU’s draft regulation on dangerous chemical substances,which, inter alia, regulates “borates” (salts or other compounds known as esters containing boron andmade fromboric acids, used for a range of purposes such as fertilizer orwood treatment) and nickel carbonates, aswell Sweden’s ban andNorway’s proposed ban on decabromodiphenyl ether, a brominated flame retardant used in fabric and plastics tomake furniture, constructionmaterials, vehicles, cables and other products.