The proposed new regulations would speed up the phase-out period of methyl bromide and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and comes just a week before a meeting of the signatories to the Montreal protocol for the protection of the ozone layer.
The Commission says the proposal "reinforces European leadership in this vital area of environmental protection," but industry has criticised the plan, saying that jobs would be lost to countries with weaker rules on the production and use of the chemicals.
Methyl bromide, mostly used as a pesticide in the cultivation of high-value agricultural produce such as strawberries and tomatoes, would be banned in the EU by 2001, rather than 2005 as specified in the protocol. According to Bent Jensen of the European chemicals industry association Cefic, this would hit tomato growers in Spain and Italy, who use the chemical for soil fumigation. Their situation will be worsened, he added, because, under the Montreal protocol, farmers in North Africa will not have to stop using the chemical until 2015.
The proposals on HCFCs would also hurt industry, with a freeze on current production levels until 2008 and then a staged phase-out by 2025. Mr Jensen said this would especially hit Europe's export potential as about 30% of European-made HCFCs currently go abroad. "This would be exporting jobs to the USA and Japan," he said.
The proposal would ban the use of HCFCs in new refrigeration and air conditioning equipment by 2001, in insulation foams between 2000 and 2004, and in solvents by 2003. Industry sources say the refrigeration industry will be hit hard by a ban on the use of HCFCs for servicing purposes by 2008, which would shorten the lifespan of a HCFC-cooled refrigeration equipment purchased in the next two years.
EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard counters that the new regulation will give industry a sound basis for planning future strategy. "[The proposal] sends a clear message to the rest of the world that ozone-depleting substances belong to a technology of the past. Those involved in the production and use of these substances now have the necessary legal framework within which they can assume their responsibilities for a better environment."
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