BusinessEurope raises concern over REACH obligations for companies

To coincide with the Helsinki Chemicals Forum, the employer organisation BusinessEurope presented the first results of its analysis on the REACH obligations for the safe use of chemicals. The organisation listed seven priority actions for optimising the implementation of REACH. In particular, BusinessEurope argues in favour of reducing the financial burden. However, the European Trade Union Confederation supports the continued obligations under REACH.

Background

The REACH obligations on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals were introduced under Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 of 18 December 2006 and entered into force on 1 June 2007. The aim of the regulation is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. REACH assigns greater responsibility to industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. It also aims to ensure that importers and producers of chemicals carry out basic health and safety testing on their products.

Meeting of stakeholders

As a result of the introduction of REACH, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) organised the first Helsinki Chemicals Forum, a meeting of stakeholders from industry, research, authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which took place in Helsinki, Finland on 27 to 29 May 2009. The aim of the new forum is to help shape an agenda for the safe and sustainable development, manufacture and use of chemicals.

Recommendations of BusinessEurope

At the meeting, the EU-level employer organisation BusinessEurope expressed concerns over the financial and administrative burden of REACH, calling for a reduction of the financial burden through the phased payment of registration fees. It also called for more accurate guidance about REACH obligations, in order to guarantee legal certainty, arguing that companies were ‘still left with legal uncertainties because of inconsistency or lack of coordination between different pieces of legislation’.

BusinessEurope notes that companies submitted some 2.8 million pre-registrations by the deadline of 1 December 2008, placing a particularly heavy burden on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The organisation’s findings are based on its initial assessment of the implementation of REACH, with a view to drawing the attention of European and national authorities to European industry’s experiences, successes and difficulties encountered thus far.

Priority action areas

Based on its assessment, BusinessEurope published a position paper (260Kb PDF) to coincide with the Helsinki meeting. In the paper, the organisation identifies seven priority areas for action, as follows:

  • the need for a significant reduction in the financial burden on European companies, with phased payment of registration fees and lower long-term fees;
  • future chemicals’ legislation to be based on the use of uniform criteria;
  • improved quality of guidance about REACH obligations;
  • harmonised REACH rules, particularly in the area of enforcement activities and taking account of industry experiences;
  • better involvement of the correspondents of the REACH helpdesk network with industry;
  • careful examination of the impacts of REACH on international trade, to ensure a level playing field between European and non-European companies;
  • making fully operational ECHA’s online platform to submit data and dossiers on chemical substances (REACH-IT).

Costliness of REACH

BusinessEurope argues that REACH has created substantial additional costs for many companies, mainly SMEs. Its Director-General, Philippe de Buck, highlighted (ECHA statement, 2 June 2009):

REACH is currently too costly and too uncertain. European companies have mobilised considerable resources to fulfil REACH obligations. It is now urgent, after two years, that ECHA and the Commission adopt the most cost-effective implementation measures and guarantee legal certainty.

Trade union position on REACH

BusinessEurope’s position on REACH differs from that of the European trade unions. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) supports the establishment of a priority list (590Kb PDF) of chemicals for authorisation (see also ETUC press release, 31 March 2009). ETUC’s Confederal Secretary, Joël Decaillon, explaining why trade unions across Europe have always backed an ambitious REACH regulation, outlined that (press release, 31 March 2009):

the future of Europe’s chemicals industry depends on it producing and marketing chemicals that are safer for human and environmental health.

Mr Decaillon added:

Only if the most dangerous chemicals currently on the market are replaced at the earliest opportunity by safer alternatives will the fight for innovation and competitiveness be won, bringing more and better jobs with it.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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