8 May 2003
Plan on Chemicals Seen as Threat to U.S. Exports
By Elizabeth Becker and Jennifer 8 Lee
May 7 — The European Union announced a proposal today that
would require manufacturers of industrial chemicals to test their
products before they can be used, a change that the Bush administration
said could threaten the $20 billion in chemicals that the United
States exports to Europe each year.
years in the making, the proposal, which requires the approval of
European governments and the European Parliament, would shift the
burden to prove the safety of chemicals onto manufacturers instead
of governments. The tests would be registered with a new agency.
Under current rules, about 99 percent of the total volume of chemicals
sold on the markets have not been subjected to testing requirements.
is no control whatsoever of the 400 million tons of chemicals sold
in the European Union each year," said Margot Wallstrom, Europe's
environment commissioner, at a news conference. "Our reform
proposal therefore requires industry to provide public information
on the chemicals they produce or import and the risks associated
with their use."
American chemical industry has lobbied hard against the proposal,
criticizing it as excessive, bureaucratic and unnecessary.
of the basic problems with Europe's approach is that it needs all
the information on all chemicals in order to make those decisions,"
said Mike Walls, senior counsel to the American Chemistry Council
trade group. The European chemical industry has also criticized
the proposal, though not as harshly.
dispute follows a pattern of Europe's trying to impose stricter
environmental rules, which the United States then labels as unnecessary,
costly and potential trade barriers.
officials said today that their proposed testing was aimed at improving
public health and the environment at a time when health problems
like allergies and male infertility are rising. The costs of cleaning
up damage from chemicals like asbestos is already in the billions
the Bush administration, the proposal amounts to unsound science
and an abuse of regulatory authority, complaints American officials
have already leveled against Europe for its concern about genetically
modified food and a plan to require that all such food, known as
genetically modified organisms, be labeled to alert consumers.
is a big game; it will dwarf the G.M.O. dispute," said William
Lash, assistant secretary of commerce for market access and compliance.
"Any benefit they gain from these tests will be outstripped
by the cost."
representatives of European environmental groups have labeled the
proposal a disappointment. They said they had hoped the proposal
would move faster and that it would include tougher safeguards,
like an obligation for industry to stop using hazardous chemicals
when a safer alternative is available.
comes down to one question: Do we want to phase out the chemicals
that accumulate in wildlife and ourselves, and those that disrupt
our hormones?" said Michael Warhurst of the World Wildlife
Fund. "I believe that the European public does, and the European
Commission is failing to get moving on this crucial task."
officials stressed to critics that this was the beginning of a debate
on how best to regulate chemicals. The 1,200-page plan was posted
today on the union Web site, which invited comments.
White House officials already have enlisted other trading partners
in Latin America and Asia to oppose the European proposal. If enough
changes are not made, the administration could consider challenging
the rules before the World Trade Organization as a restraint on
are concerned that this is potentially a trade barrier," said
a senior trade official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"This would have a huge extraterritorial effect here and in
Asia, with Europe imposing its rules on everyone else."
officials are holding public meetings to organize industry opposition
to the testing plan arguing that there must be a far cheaper way
to protect the environment and public health. European officials
said the chemical testing could cost at least $3 billion over 20
European Union is the world's largest chemical producer, accounting
for about 28 percent of the world output. The industry, Europe's
third largest in manufacturing, employs 1.7 million directly and
some 3 million people indirectly.
experts say that the Europeans are too lax in their oversight.
European chemical industry understands that there is a need for
a fundamental change," said Joel Tickner, a professor at the
University of Massachusetts at Lowell. "It really has upset
their colleagues in the United States."
the European proposal, manufacturers and importers of chemicals
would be required to submit paperwork and tests documenting the
safety of chemicals. The more hazardous chemicals and those used
in the greatest volume would be subject to the greatest scrutiny.
contrast, the main chemical regulation in the United States is the
1976 Toxic Substance Control Act, which has been widely criticized
for being weak and too deferential to industry. The vast majority
of nonpesticide chemicals are not subject to any required screening
before introduction here.
European chemical industry has tempered its criticism of the new
proposal, focusing on the application of the tests rather than the
initial white paper looked promising, balancing the social aspect,
environment aspect and the economic aspect," said Marc Devisscher,
a spokesman for Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council. "We
feel the environmental pillar is a little bit too dominant. It will
end up in a huge bureaucracy."
European Union also announced today that it had won approval from
the World Trade Organization to impose duties worth $4 billion on
American imports unless the United States repeals a law giving tax
breaks to American exporters through foreign sales corporations.
Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Finance
Committee, said today that he was committed to passing legislation
to avoid the penalties. Two representatives, Philip Crane, Republican
of Illinois, and Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, introduced
a bill last month that they said would comply with the W.T.O. ruling.