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.