European negotiating position on chemicals aims for regulatory cooperation in trade deal with U.S.

Last week, the European Commission (EC) published papers describing its negotiating positions on five topics associated with the current EU-US talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The position papers, released as part of the EC’s efforts at increasing transparency, propose improving the compatibility of rules governing chemicals, cosmetics, motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals, and textiles and clothing. Across all sectors, the EC proposes to end “unnecessary” or duplicative product testing and inspections; to recognize or better align existing regulations; and to harmonize procedures for registering and approving new products. The papers were published just before the latest round of trade talks begin this week in the U.S., and follows the late March release of a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission identifying REACH regulations as a main trade barrier for small and medium-sized businesses seeking to export chemicals to the EU.

With respect to chemicals [PDF], the EC’s position recognizes that the significant differences between existing regulations in the EU and US make harmonization and mutual recognition unattainable. Nevertheless, the position paper identifies four main objective areas in which “a higher degree of convergence” and cooperation in exchanging information would result in improved efficiency and reduced costs while maintaining the existing regulatory frameworks. These four areas are:

  • Prioritization of chemicals for assessment and agreed-upon testing procedures;
  • Classification and labeling;
  • Identifying and addressing new and emerging issues; and
  • More effective data-sharing and protection of confidential business information (CBI).

The position paper makes four concrete suggestions for achieving these objectives:

  • Establish a mechanism for mutual consultation on prioritizing chemicals for assessment or risk management as well as developing assessment methodologies. In addition, both sides would keep each other informed about related developments on the Member State/state level.
  • Determine a date by which the UN Globally Harmonized System (GHS) will be implemented for a broad range of chemicals in the U.S. A mechanism for mutual consultation on the process of classifying and labeling substances should also be established.
  • Establish a mechanism for regular consultation on new and emerging issues, focusing on those with regulatory relevance (e.g., endocrine disruptors, nanomaterials).
  • Identify and consider potential benefits and challenges to exchanging CBI, with the possibility of establishing a mechanism – including periodic reviews – to achieve such exchange if found to be appropriate.

Moreover, the position paper suggests that the TTIP’s “horizontal chapter” – a proposed section of the treaty that would set a framework for future regulatory convergence – should provide for an effective bilateral cooperation and consultation mechanism, as well as an improved way to provide feedback, so that both parties have sufficient time to comment on proposed regulations. In the chemical sector, this mechanism would apply to risk management proposals for substances at the federal/EU and Member State/U.S. state levels.

According to Chemical Watch, the proposals were well-received by the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic). The industry group’s executive director, Lena Perenius, said the position papers applied the “same logic” as Cefic’s own.

EU, U.S. TTIP negotiators discuss reducing chemical costs, regulating cosmetics.

Last week, U.S. and European Union (EU) negotiators held a second round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) discussions. During the week-long talks, negotiators examined how to reduce regulatory and industry costs for chemicals.

According to U.S. TTIP chief negotiator Dan Mullaney, a range of tools are available to reduce costs for chemicals and other sectors.  Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator, said specific ideas for cost reduction include harmonization of labeling requirements and better cooperation between the EPA and ECHA in performing risk assessment and exchanging data to avoid unnecessary testing. Bercero said the European and U.S. negotiating teams also discussed regulatory compatibility for cosmetics. Negotiators considered the feasibility of achieving “greater convergence” between the positive and negative lists of cosmetic ingredients in the EU and the U.S., which may be difficult since the U.S. allows certain cosmetic ingredients that are prohibited in the EU, said Bercero.

Meanwhile, NGOs have continued to express concerns over the lack of transparency in TTIP negotiations. Spokespeople from the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) and Friends of the Earth Europe said that open negotiations are necessary to ensure that the trade deal does not undermine or eliminate existing consumer legislation in the EU, as well as U.S. states like California with stricter chemical legislation. Both groups want access to the negotiating texts and regular consultations before and after each negotiating round. In response to NGO concerns, both Mullaney and Bercero said that talks on regulatory convergence in the chemical sector will not affect the level of protection or legislation under REACH or TSCA. The EPA has also stated that it does not believe TTIP negotiations will influence the agency’s “risk-based approach to chemicals management.”

The next round of TTIP negotiations will take place in Washington, D.C., between December 16 and 20.

Global Mercury Reduction Treaty Finalized


Last week in Geneva, Switzerland, over 140 countries finalized the first global mercury reduction treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The treaty follows four years of negotiations among national environment ministers.

The Convention is named in honor of Minamata, the Japanese city which suffered severe public health effects from mercury pollution over 50 years ago, and where the diplomatic ceremony and official signing of the treaty will take place in October.

The Minamata Convention commits countries to reducing mercury in two main ways: (1) by phasing out its use in products and (2) by requiring new coal-fired power plants to employ the best available technology to cut mercury emissions. By 2020, manufacturing and trading in “mercury-added” products – like batteries (except ‘button cell’ batteries used in implantable medical devices); switches and relays; certain types of light bulbs; and soaps and cosmetics – will be banned. Other provisions of the treaty include phasing out primary mercury mining and restricting trade on mercury from decommissioning chlor-alkali plants.

Critics such as environmental NGOs have already found fault with the Convention’s lenient approach to existing coal plants and artisanal small-scale gold mining, the two largest global sources of mercury emissions. Under the Convention, countries where artisanal small-scale gold mining is practiced have within three years of the treaty entering into force to implement action plans to reduce mercury use in mining, but the treaty does not provide for an enforcement mechanism. Likewise, decisions on triggering thresholds for existing mercury-emitting facilities have been deferred until the first meeting of the treaty after it comes into force. Negotiators also agreed to funding mechanisms to assist developing countries implement the Convention and support capacity-building and technical assistance.

International Negotiations on Mercury Treaty


International negotiators in Geneva for the fifth and final Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (“INC 5”) hope to complete a mercury reduction treaty by the end of this week, although officials warn that difficult issues remain to be resolved. Delegates from over 130 countries are expected to establish the first international legal instrument with enforceable limits on mercury emissions.

The negotiators must still determine issues including: the selection of products and processes containing mercury to be phased out; the deadline for such phase-outs; whether to adopt a complete ban on primary mercury mining; and programs for financial assistance, technology transfer, and capacity-building.

A draft text of the treaty provides for regulation of the supply and trade in mercury, as well as its use in products and processes. The draft also addresses how to: reduce mercury emissions from power plants and metal production facilities; safely store and treat waste containing mercury; and identify and evaluate contaminated sites.

A joint proposal submitted by the EU, Japan, and Jamaica would phase out mercury in products like fluorescent lamps, pesticides, and cosmetics by 2018, with a later phase-out of 2020 for batteries and measuring devices. The joint proposal also calls for phasing out mercury in the production of chlor-alkali, polyurethane, and acetaldehyde by 2018 to 2025.

Negotiators are still considering a ban on the export and sale of mercury from countries with primary mercury mining. Delegates have already reached a compromise on the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (“ASGM”), which recently surpassed coal burning as the major source of global mercury emissions. Under the deal, countries could continue to import mercury for ASGM if they develop national action plans to reduce mercury emissions. In addition, the draft treaty permits the continued use of mercury in producing vinyl chloride monomer (“VCM”), an intermediary chemical used in manufacturing PVC plastic.

In the run-up to the conference, UNEP released two reports warning of the growing environmental and health risks of mercury exposure. The reports present estimates and trends of mercury contamination; for example, in the past century, mercury levels have doubled in the top 100 meters of the world’s oceans. UNEP argues that a global reduction treaty would reduce health problems linked to mercury, including neurological and behavioral disorders.