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MPs urged to avoid regulatory divergence on chemical rules

Diverging from European rules governing the use of chemicals in products and manufacturing processes risks creating additional cost and complexity.

techUK this week warned MPs that diverging from European rules governing the use of chemicals in products and manufacturing processes risked creating additional cost and complexity for companies operating within the UK.

EU chemicals policy is under particular scrutiny after quickly emerging as an area of law where the Great Repeal Bill will fail to maintain regulatory coherence. A copy and paste job simply won’t work for this complex and dynamic area of legislation.

Speaking at an evidence session held by the Environmental Audit Committee, techUK’s head of environment and compliance Susanne Baker highlighted how techUK’s members broadly supported retaining REACH. Two-thirds of techUK’s members traded goods and services with Europe. Any products being placed on the EU market would have to REACH-compliant at the point of sale. There would be few benefits in deviating from the current regime.

Indeed, REACH-like models are increasingly being adopted around the world. Countries – such as China, Malaysia, Korea and Turkey – have, or are adopting, models based on Europe’s approach.

While downstream users of chemicals have been highly critical of REACH’s implementation in the past, a survey of companies across a range of manufacturing sectors immediately after the referendum – including techUK members – indicated that the vast majority wanted REACH to stay. Access to the single market was cited as the primary reason for backing the regime.

How to keep REACH remains a subject of contention. As it is a Regulation and subject to ECJ rulings it is difficult to see a solution which is politically acceptable.

There are some possible options which we will be exploring with members in more detail in the coming months. We could agree to continue to abide by REACH to help secure a favourable Free Trade Agreement with Europe. We might also be able to agree a bilateral deal to cooperate on chemicals policy like the Swiss. Another option could be to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Chemicals Agency like Canada. Or, of course, we could develop our own UK-REACH.

Appetite for the latter is lacking. For one it could prove incredibly expensive and a headache for UK government to administer. On the other hand, adopting a Swiss like model means we would have little influence over chemical policy in future. In the coming months we will look more closely at the costs and benefits of the range of options that are available to use.

TechUK’s written submission to the Environmental Audit Committee is available here. Further details of the inquiry, including a transcript of techUK’s session with the Committee, is available here.


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