TCS Daily

Better Living, Sensible Regulation

By Martin Callanan - September 27, 2005 12:00 AM

The United Nations' Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) was discussed last week in Vienna. It seeks to internationalize a "precautionary principle" approach essentially similar to the EU's REACH proposal, which is causing great concern in the chemicals industry in Europe. It appears that the US State Department is considering the UN proposal, and there are fears that it might adopt it.

We strongly believe that the Bush Administration should continue to take a principled stand against international agreements based upon the precautionary principle, and continue to advocate the current international standard risk-based legislation. We have accordingly written as Members of the European Parliament to the US State Department, urging them to take this approach.

On a recent visit to the United States, we were pleased to attend a meeting on Capitol Hill with representatives from the Bush Administration, who expressed firm opposition to the EU's forthcoming REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) Directive. With several elements of REACH contained in it, SAICM is equally burdensome, costly and impractical -- and possibly even a back-door way of introducing the problematic REACH Directive on an international level.

The US State Department should already be aware that REACH in itself is complicated and controversial in the European legislative process. We have objected both to the principles that underpin this hazard-based legislation, and to the processes that it involves. As an international agreement, SAICM is equally objectionable and we urge all governments -- our own included -- to withdraw support for it.

SAICM is disproportionate to what it is trying to achieve, with a wholly unbalanced cost-benefit ratio. The creation of new agencies, new liability systems, new government schemes and so on, represents a significant expansion of government with very little evidence of benefit.

Furthermore, SAICM (like REACH) threatens an excessively burdensome impact on trade and possibly even a distortion of international trade. At a minimum, a full economic impact assessment of SAICM should be done before any government endorses it.

A healthy environment will better be cultivated in the developing world through economic growth, the establishment of a rule of law and ultimately the availability of cleaner technologies. Until structures are in place for the developing world to access new technologies, and indeed to further develop the technologies themselves, SAICM represents little more than costly international posturing.

Neither do we find enough protection given to the question of data confidentiality in this legislation. Both REACH and SAICM threaten huge impacts for proprietary information, and industry should reasonably expect to maintain its intellectual property. The level of uncertainty contained in SAICM about what constitutes proprietary information, or what information must be shared, is too worrisome to be overlooked or dealt with in the vague manner that this agreement does. Indeed, the very scope of SAICM is pretty broad in a number of areas that are far too vaguely worded for comfort.

It is difficult to see how SAICM will have any positive effect on the international management of chemicals or how it will yield any significant, measurable results. Furthermore, there are far-reaching implications of making hazard-based legislation the international standard; the precautionary principle has yet to prove anything other than an inhibitor to the development of technologies that could very well yield significant, measurable improvements for human and environmental health. We are not convinced that spending additional resources on SAICM constitutes either value for money, or contributes to genuine capacity-building for the international management of chemicals.

As such, we urge both the European Union and the U.S. Administration to veto the high-level ministerial declaration scheduled for February 2006 in Dubai.

Roger Helmer and Chris Heaton-Harris are Members of the European Parliament from the UK East Midlands. Martin Callanan is an MEP from the UK North East constituency. Ivo Strejcek is an MEP from the Czech Republic.


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