The European cosmetics industry promises to make sure that chemicals and ingredients banned by the EU won't get back into the products in European shops through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), says Bertil Heerink.
Bertil Heerink is director general at Cosmetics Europe. He spoke to EurActiv's Henriette Jacobsen.
How does Europe’s cosmetics industry view TTIP?
We find TTIP important for various reasons. Economically, but also to make sure that the trade flow between the EU and US is getting easier. In our industry, we have multinational companies who are used to dealing with various systems, but also 4,000 SMEs who are not always used to managing different systems. The two regulatory systems for cosmetics in the EU and the US are very different.
First of all, the definition of cosmetics in Europe under the recently revised regulation is a very broad one, so many categories of products fall under the regulation. In the US, you have a different system where the category of cosmetics is a very narrow one. There are many things, which we consider cosmetics, that are OTC drugs (over-the-counter drugs) such as toothpaste and UV filters, (which) are not seen as cosmetics.
Secondly, the standards in Europe on safety are pretty high. We are generally seen as ranking highest. It’s very important to emphasise that we do not want any situation in which standards would be lowered. It is not in our interest.
We have developed with the Americans a joint proposal on what could and should be done. I would describe it as taking measures to make life easier, not so much in the area of quality, but the way things function in practice. We are in favour of mutual recognition of tests, protocols and how risk assessment is conducted so that we can rely on each other’s outcomes and systems. It would make life easier.
As a third element, we want to make progress in the area of labeling. Products in the two markets are often labeled with different codes. There isn’t a common international legislature on cosmetic ingredients. Therefore there is an obligation for the companies constantly to redo the packaging and information for the consumer, and that is just not convenient. It would be helpful if the labeling was also coordinated.
I’d like to go back to what you said about working together with your American colleagues. Right now, you have a common statement out. I’m guessing this deal would benefit you the most when you have the higher standards. If it’s going to be more expensive for them to live up to your standards, how can you guarantee that they are not working against this behind closed doors?
We work very closely together. But we know that there are no guarantees in life and certainly not in negotiation processes. But I was trying to make the point that this is not about standards. It’s more about regulation mechanisms. For example, if a chemical would be forbidden on the European market, but is allowed on the US market, then that product will not be allowed on the European market. Full stop. The ingredient is not allowed, and rightly so. Companies would still have to reformulate and change ingredients in order to have access to the European market. I can only say if they want to export to the European market, they have to comply with the law and that will continue to be the case.
You mentioned that there are different definitions of products in the EU and the US. How worried should consumers be that the Americans can use this to create loopholes and get products with ingredients that we don’t want through to the EU market?
If a formulation of a product does not comply with EU law, the product will not come to the EU market. We have systems at national borders which check the formulation of products. So it is checked, and I don’t expect additional burdens or increased risks. The only thing you can expect from the TTIP negotiations is that the levels will be more comparable, and therefore the problems will decrease rather than increase.
Still, there are many health NGOs and campaigners that are worried because they don’t think there’s enough transparency regarding TTIP. What would you say to these critics?
This is a general point. How democratic are the negotiation processes? I think the only way to approach it is to make sure that the stakeholder dialogue, which the Commission has started, is continuing. And I cannot imagine that the Commission, Parliament or Council would accept an outcome which is against the fundamental needs and obligations of the legislation which is in place.
We are also organising an active outreach to the NGO community here in Europe, which is probably a little bit more than what is happening in the US. We engage with BEUC (the European Consumer Organisation) today. We are exchanging documents on the fundamentals of the Commission’s position. So there is a very intense information exchange on this and we well definitely make sure that it will also be well-handled.
My experience is that secret trade deals never stay secret and if there is an attempt to have them secretly dealt with, they always backfire.
Can you explain how you work behind the scenes with the Commission, exchanging information?
We don’t work so much behind the scene. It's just part of the normal agenda which we have. This morning, we were talking to the incoming Italian presidency and the Italian ambassador to the EU, and TTIP was part of the discussion, because we will have a certain role in the negotiations. But when it comes to trade, the Commission is exclusively competent, so the Commission is the most important. We reach out to parliamentarians, we talk to the Commission and give them our input. So I don't see a fundamental problem. We always work in that way. Our positions and views are open and public and up for any discussion.
If we at the end will have a comprehensive TTIP deal, what will this mean for your industry, since you are already the biggest in the world?
You always can get bigger. You always should have that ambition. It should also boost innovation. Our industry is a very innovative industry, science-driven. Putting in place comparable systems when it comes to risk assessments, manufacturing practices and so on should also contribute to a boost in innovation. Employment? Yes, we employ in Europe, directly and indirectly, between 1.5-1.7 million people, so we are a big employer. This can only benefit from TTIP, and that's how it should be.