London – The UK Chemical Business Association (CBA) has welcomed a move by the government to seek access to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) database to improve the “workability and affordability” of UK registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) regulation following the country's full withdrawal from the EU at the end of the year.
In a 28 October letter to CBA, Rebecca Pow MP, parliamentary undersecretary of state, department of environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) Defra, said the government had proposed a chemicals annex to the UK/EU trade deal which includes a data sharing provision to mitigating the industry’s UK REACH costs.
“We have consistently lobbied for improvements to the original form of UK REACH which, in our view, was unworkable,” said CBA’s chief executive, Peter Newport, in a statement 30 Oct.
If successful, the move will resolve the key issue concerning testing data, according to Newport.
In the absence of access to ECHA data, Newport said the alternative would be to impose "unknown data acquisition costs or a major duplicative testing regime on UK REACH registrants," which are estimated to cost £1 billion (€1.1 billion) and increase animal testing.
According to CBA, UK firms do not own the testing data that is required to support registrations under UK REACH. The majority of this data is owned by consortia of European companies.
CBA said its surveys indicate that the figure for non-UK ownership could be as high as 75%.
For EU REACH, the “letters of access” purchased by UK businesses are only valid for EU markets, not for third countries which the UK becomes at the end of the transition period.
CBA said it believed that the only way to ensure consistent standards and avoid multiple registrations for the same product was for the UK to share the data held by ECHA.
The original EU REACH legislation (Article 120) contains a mechanism for sharing testing data with a third country with the objective of achieving a wider and improved regulatory framework for chemicals.
“We welcome the UK government’s more pragmatic approach to building a workable UK framework for the chemical sector after the end of the transition period,” said Newport.
The government has also announced a phased introduction of registrations based on tonnage bands, a change that CBA said it had lobbied the government to implement.
“The remaining issue concerns the fees payable for registrations under UK REACH,” Newport said.
The fee structure for UK REACH proposed by Defra is identical to that charged by ECHA for access to the whole of the EU28 market.
This, CBA believes, is unjustified on cost-benefit terms given the relative size of the UK market for chemicals which represents 12% of the combined size of current EU markets.
“It is a disproportionate and unsustainable cost on an industry emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic and its recessionary impacts - plus the potential tariff increases on raw materials post-Brexit,” said Newport.
Whilst accepting that there are some discounts for smaller firms, Newport said the industry was being expected to “pay the bill for resourcing the Health and Safety Executive as its new regulatory body for UK REACH.”
“This has all the characteristics of a blank cheque. Industry is paying an inflated and unjustified level of fees to fund the unknown staffing, training, and overhead costs of the HSE with no oversight mechanism proposed,” the CBA official added.
In addition, Newport said that unlike EU REACH, there is no appeal mechanism within UK REACH for industry to challenge HSE’s spending or its decisions.
“HSE effectively becomes judge and jury in its own court,” he concluded.