With final approval of Reach looming, the US has launched a last-gasp campaign to persuade ministers to 'revisit' the draft.

Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France

With European governments poised to approve the EU regime of registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (Reach) the US has launched a last-gasp campaign to persuade ministers to ’revisit’ the draft.

But EU leaders gave no hint of heeding Washington’s appeals when they convened for a summit in Brussels on June 14-15.

On speculation that Reach would be high on the agenda of an EU/US summit hosted by the Austrian presidency of the EU in Vienna on 21 June, Chancellor Wolfgang Sch?ssel fended off questions, saying that ’all relevant issues’ would be discussed.

American claims that Reach may violate World Trade Organisation rules by creating technical barriers to trade were dismissed by G?nter Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry.

’The Commission is absolutely convinced that Reach is compatible with WTO rules,’ Verheugen told a European Parliament committee meeting in Strasbourgon 12 June. Indeed, he suggested, Reach ’will set an example for the rest of the world to follow’.

International trade aspects of Reach had been raised by AmCham EU, the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU. AmCham claimed that Reach listings of substances for priority safety assessment, and requirements to report their presence in articles, would create de facto trade blacklists. Moreover, pressure for substitution with safer substances would impose disproportionate reformulation costs.

The AmCham complaints echo concerns raised at Reach-compliance discussions in the US.   The American Electronics Association, for example, warned that critical equipment, such as electronic chips, could malfunction despite even small changes in chemical composition.

The US campaign gathered pace when the new US ambassador to the EU, C Boyden Gray arranged a meeting of diplomats in Brussels on 8 June. Twelve countries at the meeting, including Australia, Brazil, India and Japan, added their signatures to a statement registering concerns about the chemicals registration scheme.

Boyden Gray said: ’The Reach legislation, including the registration and authorisation processes, should be risk- and not hazard-based. No government has the resources to monitor all chemicals and substances that are sold in commerce. In a world of finite resources, we must make informed choices.’

However, it emerged at Commissioner Verheugen’s meeting with MEPs that Reach may encounter financial problems, as well as trade conflict.

Verheugen startled MEPs by claiming that the proposed new European Chemicals Agency will need at least an additional €100 million over the first three years of its operations.

Without more money, the agency will not be able to afford the highly qualified staff and specialised IT resources needed, he said.

Verheugen hinted that the decision by governments to locate the agency in Helsinki, one of Europe’s costlier capitals, has not been helpful.