Neil Eisberg, Editor
As 2020 slowly winds down, and the world continues to struggle with the on-going Covid pandemic, in the UK, another deadline is looming – the end of the transition period and its final departure from the EU.
As this issue goes to press, a final agreement on a UK-EU trade deal is still being hammered out, but there is one specific aspect that has still to be finalised, and appears to be consistently overlooked, that is of particular importance to the UK chemical industry: what will replace the single most important piece of EU regulation, REACH?
Concerns over a UK replacement for REACH have been raised by the industry and its representatives with the UK government for many months, if not years, but a solution still appears nowhere near resolution.
During early October 2020, the UK House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee sounded alarms bells about the lack of clarity on a post-Brexit chemicals safety regulation. The committee also pointed out the UK chemical industry faces severe costs and mounting uncertainty, adding that a data-sharing agreement with the EU or alternative arrangements would help mitigate the situation.
The committee emphasised that increased and unnecessary costs for the chemicals industry – the UK’s second largest manufacturing sector after food and drink – will push up prices for other industries that use chemicals in their products and for consumers. In addition, UK chemical manufacturers and importers may take products off the market meaning that other industries will have to produce alternatives, which could lead to less effective, more expensive goods and less consumer choice.
Chair of the sub-committee, and former Member of the European Parliament, Lord Teverson said: ‘New thinking by the government is required to ensure that we protect human and environmental health without having a negative impact on our economy and without placing excessive burdens on industry.
‘Industry’s priority is for the UK regime to remain consistent with EU REACH, and our priority is to protect the UK economy and consumers. A data-sharing agreement is the way to accomplish both.’
The committee has written to UK Environment Secretary George Eustice and Business Secretary Alok Sharma urging them to do all they can to secure a data-sharing agreement ‘otherwise many companies will have to buy or reproduce data owned by European counterparts’.
Early in September 2020, the British Coatings Federation (BCF) highlighted the importance of a data-sharing agreement as being part of the current UK/EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks. The BCF pointed out that such an agreement would be the way to avoid duplication of the EU REACH system and re-registration of all chemical substances in a new database. ‘It is this wholesale re-registration – including full data dossiers duplicating registrations already registered in the EU REACH database – which will prove so bureaucratic, burdensome and costly to business’.
If data-sharing is not reached then the BCF believes the UK Government will need to go further than the proposed time extension for the UK system, which merely spreads the cost of the registration requirements over a longer time period but does not reduce the overall cost. Another outcome would be the loss of some lower quantity substances as they would be uneconomic to be registered in the UK.
As BCF CEO Tom Bowtell said: ‘Along with others, we have been actively and positively engaged in conversations with the UK government for well over a year… We hope that a data-sharing agreement on chemicals can be negotiated between the UK and EU as part of an FTA, and fully support the Government as it continues to work for that outcome: it would seem to be the most practical solution to this problem.
‘However, if such an agreement does not come to pass then we hope the Government will continue to engage with, and listen to, the continued concerns of industry. Ultimately, we hope they realise we are not crying wolf over the impact of UK REACH on companies using chemicals… And agree to make further amendments to their plans that will mitigate the effect of the new UK regulatory system on business.’
One thing is certain: time is running out. And one thing is needed: an holistic governmental view on the future of the UK chemical industry – it is already participating in the formulation of a Sectoral Agreement for the industry, which will involve funding and support, but this will all be for naught if a workable regulatory system for the products of the industry is not put in place at the earliest opportunity.
And, as stated above, time is running out if that regulatory system is to be based on data-sharing with the EU. UK chemical companies have already paid for the registration of their products with the EU – they shouldn’t have to pay twice.