As it happened several times in the past, the closer a TTIP negotiation round gets, the bigger the debate over the main questions intensifies. With the next round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks due to take place this month in Brussels, this time was the turn of the European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, to raise concerns over the mammoth EU-US treaty.
The Brussels-based umbrella consumer group released a position paper on the proposed TTIP agreement last week where it urges the European Commission not to validate the pact with the US as it would allegedly increase consumer exposure to toxic chemicals. According to BEUC the EU’s chemical risks control system, which is by definition the world’s most ambitious one, could be potentially weakened by “the nature and scope of the transatlantic trade deal” itself.
Indeed BEUC sees the many differences between the European and the American regulatory systems on chemical products, with the risk for the EU system to lose its high standards if merged with the American one, as the core issue of the discussion. The problem is that, according to BEUC, the new regulation was “a reaction” to three decades of “negative experience in the United States under the Toxic Substances Control Act”, the TSCA, which does not require chemical suppliers to provide any data on the hazards of their products.
The “REACH” shelter
As widely believed, the source of the risks for the consumers can be found in the lack of toxicity and exposure information on many chemical substances in commercial use. Against this background, the EU in 2006 adopted a legislation setting up a new system for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, the REACH. As also explained by BEUC in its paper, one of the core objectives of the REACH Regulation is thus to create pressure on companies to develop better information on their chemicals and guarantee safety for the consumers.
“REACH adopts several techniques that reverse the approach to chemicals management taken under TSCA, the most important of which are prescribing precaution in the face of scientific uncertainty and shifting the burden of proof from regulators to industry”, BEUC reported. In a few words, according to BEUC, the American system has too many “black holes” in its body, and so would ultimately allow too much space for chemical industries to manoeuvre. Therefore, BEUC’s position is quite clear: “Given the dismal record of toxic substance control in the United States, BEUC cautions against a transatlantic free-trade agreement that would seek to align EU and US chemicals management frameworks”, BEUC urged in its document.
Overall, BEUC’s position on TTIP and the way the proposed EU-US trade agreement would regulate chemicals and toxic products is quite clear. “We see a risk that current TTIP proposals would delay or thwart progress on reducing consumer exposure to toxic chemicals”, BEUC explained and so urged the negotiating parties to “reconsider their approach to the chemicals sector”. According to BEUC, the negotiating parties have so far “failed” to deliver “a bold, ambitious vision for transatlantic cooperation on chemicals that would bring real benefits to consumers and the environment”.
The European Consumer Organisation basically is now asking European negotiators and authorities to conclude an agreement which keeps the consumer always informed about the presence of harmful chemicals in products and that encourages management of chemicals based on hazard. The point is that BEUC is determined and firm on the position of having chemicals excluded from the TTIP regulatory cooperation chapters “should the negotiating parties fail to reconsider their approach”.
Contrasts with the industry’s view
BEUC’s position is openly in contrast with what other organisations and associations believe, like the European Chemical Industry Council for example. What CEFIC (From its former French name Conseil Européen des Fédérations de l’Industrie Chimique) says, as the main European trade association for the chemical industry, is that TTIP is a “remarkable opportunity” for both the European and American economic systems. CEFIC’s official position on the transatlantic trade agreement, as explained on its website, is that The European chemical industry supports this ambitious partnership as the United States remain the European Union’s biggest chemical trading partner.
“Maintain highest standards”
CEFIC also says that “proposals” to promote efficiencies “within and between the current legislations” and to reduce costs have been made with American Chemistry Council. “They [the proposals] aim to promote alignment, primarily by ensuring a common scientific basis for decision-making, without changing regulation”, says CEFIC on its website. Moreover, on its official position paper on TTIP, CEFIC asks EU policy makers to “maintain the highest standards of chemical safety in the EU”, where “an enhanced EU-US co-operation on agreeing classifications for chemicals could become a good basis for a global list while respecting each other procedures”. The Sting’s readers can find CEFIC position paper here.
Next TTIP round
The whole chemical system regulation issue is surely destined to have a big impact on the next round of talks, as on the whole negotiation process. In the official report of last negotiations round, published by the EU, it has already been said that chemicals provision in TTIP, which basically were not discussed in the 11th round, will have a prominent position during next round.
The 12th round of TTIP talks is due to to take place in the second half of February, although dates haven’t been announced yet.