TTIP a threat to EU chemical safety standards, German NGO says

5744968358_e1392eeba0_b.jpg [Jean-Pierre/Flickr]

Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) sees the transatlantic trade agreement TTIP as a threat to standards protecting against chemicals that may be harmful to humans and the environment. The chemicals industry “vehemently” objected to the NGO’s claim. EURACTIV Germany reports.

An analysis conducted on behalf of the German conservation organisation BUND comes to the conclusion that exempting TTIP from the EU’s precautionary principle could compromise consumer protection.

If the transatlantic trade agreement is adopted, the study revealed, Europe could end up being exposed to more carcinogenic, hormonally active and environmentally harmful chemicals.

For this reason, BUND is calling on the European Commission to stop negotiations on TTIP immediately. According to the NGO, TTIP is a threat to EU standards that protect against chemicals that are harmful to humans and the environment.

Chemicals regulation differs significantly between the EU and the United States. BUND said over 1,300 chemical cosmetics additives and more than 80 pesticide substances are banned in the EU, but approved for use in products made in the US. This discrepancy is indicative of the very different legal situation in the two regions.

In the U.S., a comparatively small number of chemicals are banned and industrial enterprises are not required to prove a substance’s safety.

The EU, on the other hand, regulates according to the principle of “no data, no market” for chemicals manufacturers. Before a substance is allowed on the market, the company must provide proof of its harmlessness. Under this precautionary principle, bans and permission restrictions may also be implemented if final proof of a chemical’s risks has not yet been submitted.

“The precautionary principle which applies to us here, should under no circumstances become a bargaining chip,” said BUND chairman Hubert Weiger in Berlin.

“Allegedly necessary harmonisations or so-called mutual recognition within the framework of TTIP should not be allowed,” Weiger argued.

>>Read: EU, US trade talks seek to advance regulatory pillar

The BUND chairman accused the US government of attacking recent efforts in the EU to better protect consumers from hormonally-active chemicals.

“Under the guise of avoiding barriers to trade, the Obama Administration has repeatedly submitted written requests to the European Commission, asking that it not pass any protective measures against risky chemicals that it considers to be discriminating or unjustified,” Weiger said.

The public in the US and the EU must be given the best possible protection against chemicals that are harmful to health, he said, but with TTIP, chemicals corporations on both sides of the Atlantic hope to achieve the opposite.

“We do not need a so-called free trade agreement that weakens consumer protection,” the BUND chairman contended.

Vehement rejection of “BUND’s allegations”

Meanwhile, the German Chemicals Industry Association (VCI) “vehemently” rejected the “allegation from BUND, that chemicals companies are aiming for lower protection of the population from chemicals that are harmful to health”.

“The German chemicals industry is committed to the European chemicals regulation REACH,” said the VCI’s managing director Utz Tillmann.

“By no means will TTIP lead to softening of standards in chemicals safety. The regulations that are relevant to chemicals – TSCA in the US and REACH in Europe – are designed very differently. For this reason, mutual recognition is not possible,” Tillmann indicated.

At the same time, the VCI said it believes that duplicated efforts can be avoided and trade barriers can be eliminated without encroaching upon protection standards.

In this context, Tillmann referred to the TTIP negotiation paper on regulatory cooperation published by the Commission at the beginning of May. “There, the Commission makes it clear that negotiations on converging any kind of regulation can only take place if no standards are lowered and both sides actually want regulatory cooperation.”

VCI: Precautionary principle cannot be eliminated by TTIP

In addition, VCI continued, the impression BUND created, saying the EU’s precautionary principle could be questioned under to TTIP, has absolutely no basis.

“The precautionary principle is a part of the Lisbon Treaty and thereby the EU’s fundamental treaties,” Tillmann said. “As a result, it cannot be eliminated by a treaty under international law like TTIP.”

Instead of “constructing groundless claims”, the VCI said, it would be more constructive “if the BUND would seek out dialogue with us on these issues”.

US in the process of changing outdated chemical regulation

The House of representatives this week passed legislation to overhaul toxic chemical safety laws for the first time in decades. Passed on a 398-1 vote, the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review chemicals in products and issue risk management regulations.

Lawmakers said that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) law, originally enacted in 1976, was overdue for a rewrite. “The time is now to update this outdated law,” said Republican Congressman John Shimkus, the bill’s author.

The legislation has broad support from a range of stakeholders, including the chemical distribution industry. A Senate panel last month also advanced a far-reaching compromise measure. The two processes mark the farthest lawmakers have ever come in efforts to completely change an outdated law, which they say has analytical and legal hurdles that have often prevented EPA from cracking down on harmful substances.

Such a move could arguably play in favour of better regulatory cooperation within TTIP.

Negotiations between the United States and the European Union to forge an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July 2013.

If successful, the deal would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment.

The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world. Traded goods and services between the two partners are worth €2 billion daily.

Brussels and Washington have set an ambitious goal of completing negotiations by the end of 2015.

>> Read our LinksDossier: TTIP for dummies

BUND study (German language): "TTIP und die Chemikalienpolitik in der EU"

German Chemicals Industry Association VCI (German language): Keine Absenkung von Sicherheitsstandards in der Chemie durch TTIP

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