EU, USA, debate chemicals management

Bjerregaard uses conference to detail elements of EU chemicals management review

Cooperation between the EU and the US on chemicals and environment policy took a further step yesterday when decision makers, industry, NGOs and academics met for a two-day conference on chemicals management in both continents. Acting EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard opened the event in Cernobbio, northern Italy, saying the time was right for closer cooperation on an issue which has global environment impact and could also give rise to future trade disputes.

The meeting comes at a time when governments are looking forward to the start of new world trade talks which will raise a number of important issues about how environmental regulation can work alongside trade liberalisation (ENDS Daily 22 March). Both industry and NGOs are also starting to look at environmental issues on a more global basis. The chemicals industry from both continents is cooperating on an international programme to provide hazard data on 1,000 chemicals (ENDS Daily 20 October 1998), and NGOs have joined forces to tackle issues of common interest under the so-called "transatlantic environment dialogue" (ENDS Daily 4 May).

Ms Bjerregaard stressed that environmental safeguards must not take second place to trade liberalisation. "As far as the assessment and management of chemicals is concerned, the way they are treated today, you can easily get the impression that chemicals have more rights than humans," she told delegates.

The event allowed speakers from both sides of the Atlantic to compare policy making and industry initiatives and Ms Bjerregaard highlighted the next steps in the EU's review of its own chemicals management policy. Following a stakeholder "brainstorming" in Brussels earlier this year (ENDS Daily 26 February), this process will continue at a ministerial discussion on 25 June, leading to a Commission proposal for a new chemicals strategy.

Ms Bjerregaard listed the key points highlighted in the as-yet unpublished conclusions from the brainstorming. As well as confirming the need for a "fundamental review" of EU chemicals legislation, the brainstorming pointed out the need to:

* Review the burden of proof in relation to risk management issues;

* Consider merging the systems for "new" and "existing" chemicals;

* Consider strengthening the role of the Commission's research unit the European Chemicals Bureau;

* Manage the whole life-cycle of chemical, not just their production;

* Reconsider the respective roles of hazard and risk as part of the risk management process; and

* Envisage a wider role for the substitution principle.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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