Harmful chemical regulation after Brexit

harmful chemical regulation
© iStock/Thomas-Soellner

As Brexit approaches, British manufacturers and regulators are concerned about the UK’s future role in harmful chemical regulation discussions.

In EU negotiations over harmful chemical regulation, the UK has typically advocated in the interests of the chemical production industry; erring on the side of less regulation. Once the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 it will be unable to take part in negotiations, with the theoretical result that EU regulations regarding the control of destructive and harmful chemicals could tighten.

The UK’s chemicals industry is worth £12.7 billion (€14.6 billion); with 61 per cent of British chemical exports going to the EU and 73 per cent of its imports originating in the union. UK representatives have stymied and weakened a number of EU-imposed controls on harmful chemical regulation, including fighting to loosen regulation of hormone-disrupting substances in pesticides and opposing the classification of several substances of very high concern.

Hans Muilerman, chemical officer at Pesticide Action Network Europe, said: “Generally, I think most of the UK civil servants simply support industry. We actually are not sad about the UK leaving the EU – at least they won’t undermine health and the environment in the entire Europe anymore.”

The EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation, first implemented in 2007, is increasingly treated as a global standard for harmful chemical regulation and legislation; with non-EU countries including China, Japan, Brazil and Canada observing identical or similar standards. Of countries with a significant chemicals industry, the US is more or less the only outlier.

The UK’s Chemicals Industry Association (CIA) has pushed for the UK to retain “associate membership” of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) after Brexit, which would allow it to remain a part of REACH, making budget contributions and following REACH’s rules on harmful chemical regulation; the EU was reportedly not convinced by the proposal. The UK would still have to abide by REACH’s rules in order to trade with other compliant states whether or not it is accorded associate membership.

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