Bush Administration Steps Up Pressure on EU to Weaken Proposed Chemical Laws

July 14, 2004

In its aggressive campaign to water down proposed new toxic chemical regulations in Europe, the Bush administration is now making vague accusations that the European initiative violates World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements governing how nations do business with one another.

At a July 1 meeting of the WTO's Technical Barriers to Trade Committee meeting, the administration submitted general comments that parroted the U.S. chemical industry's objections to the proposed regulations, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals). However, U.S. officials failed to spell out how REACH would conflict with current WTO agreements -- despite recent demands from two U.S. senators that they do so. [1]

Prior to the July 1 meeting, U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, asking that he cite the specific WTO provisions that REACH would allegedly violate.

"We are troubled by reports that the position of this administration on REACH may reflect the interests of a narrow segment of U.S. industry without consideration of the broader ramifications for the U.S. economy, national interest, public health, and the environment," the letter stated. [2]

The REACH initiative -- the most sweeping change in European chemical policy in decades -- would require chemical manufacturers to provide the public with information about the potential harmfulness of their products before placing them on the market. It would also provide stricter regulations for thousands of chemicals already on the market.. Although the proposal would only govern countries in the European Union, U.S. chemical manufacturers would have to comply with the new rules in order to export their products to Europe.

The Bush administration, which has consistently favored policies beneficial to the U.S. chemical industry, has teamed up with American chemical companies to lobby against REACH and has already succeeded in weakening some of the proposed rules. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell himself stepped up pressure on the EU when he cabled U.S. diplomats with a list of talking points, urging them to voice these objections to European officials. [3]

In its latest attack, the Bush administration is working to rally support among allies outside of Europe, to show that REACH would create barriers to trade among nations. The administration's argument "reflects a lot of industry arguments, such as the new regulations being too 'costly' or 'burdensome,'" Mary Bottari, an analyst for Public Citizen http://www.publiccitizen.org , told BushGreenwatch http://www.bushgreenwatch.org.

"Once again, we have the U.S. position equals the chemical industry position," agreed Joe DiGangi, a scientist with the Environmental Health Fund.

Supporters of REACH say sweeping changes in chemical regulations are urgently needed, both here and abroad. Currently, little is known about the safety of chemicals manufactured in the U.S. or Europe. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. does not require companies to test chemicals for human exposure risks before placing them on the market.

[1] US comments submitted to WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Committee, July 1, 2004; Letter to US Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick from Sens. Lautenberg and Jeffords, Jun. 22, 2004.
[2] Ibid.
[3] BushGreenwatch, Apr. 9, 2004


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