Chemicals in TTIP

Chemicals in TTIP

Author: Vera Koester (Image: © Messukeskus Helsinki)

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has been under negotiation between the European Union and the United States since July 2013. Part of the negotiations relate to chemicals.

Dr. Klaus Berend is Head of Unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs responsible for the implementation of the EU Regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). He talks to Dr. Vera Koester of ChemViews Magazine about the negotiations on TTIP.


How did TTIP start?

TTIP was started in early 2013 at an EU/US summit in which Presidents Obama, Van Rompuy, and Barroso agreed to launch the negotiation process. The regulatory part in particular was based on work that had been done over the years through the framework of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), which formed a high-level group on regulatory cooperation. They had adopted a set of recommendations on what could be useful in terms of regulatory cooperation between the US and the EU. This provided important input for TTIP. The Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission (DG TRADE) on our side and the United States Trade Representative (US-TR) on the US side then launched a public call for proposals from all stakeholders on what issues/topics could be tackled. Most of the input came from a broad range of industry sectors. However, it is a misconception that the process was driven by industry from the beginning.


But now it looks like there is no substantial input from others outside of industry?

That is true. Initially, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), for example, did not respond to the call for proposals – at least not for chemicals. Ever since, the majority of the NGOs have offered only one message: “Don’t negotiate anything on chemicals as part of TTIP.” This is not the kind of input that can be used for the negotiations.

The animal welfare organizations, such as Humane Society International (HSI) agency, are an exception. They see opportunities to better exchange data and to work together on non-animal testing methods. So this group of NGOs is very supportive because they see the advantage in avoiding animal testing.


You mentioned the negotiating teams. Who is on these?

Regulators. In the case of the EU, the European Commission is negotiating on behalf of all 28 Member States. The United States Trade Representative (US-TR) is negotiating for the US. Dan Mullaney is the Chief US Negotiator for TTIP, and Ignacio Garcia Bercero is the Chief EU Negotiator.

There are no representatives from industry or other stakeholder groups in these negotiation teams or present at the negotiations.


There are gaps between the chemical regulations of the US and those of the EU. So what will this look like in the end? If I am a US company and I want to sell something in Europe, do I still have to comply with REACH?

Yes, you still have to comply with REACH. When a product is brought on the market either in the EU or in the US, it is the supplier who has to make sure that whatever requirements apply are respected and observed.

A second paper with joint proposals from the US and EU industry suggested mutual recognition of conditions for placing a chemical on the market. This would have meant that the EU would have to waive registration if a chemical is on the market in the US. The US would have to waive the pre-manufacturing notice if the chemical is on the market in the EU. But we immediately said that this is not possible. Legal frameworks are very different, therefore, harmonization or mutual recognition are not an objective under TTIP for chemicals.

The basic framework is to respect the rules as they are and look for possibilities to work together within these rules. Let me give you an example of the priority chemical assessment: On our side, work is progressing on the evaluation of nonylphenol within the REACH evaluation process. The UK is the evaluating Member State. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also looking at nonylphenol, so we had – as one of the pilot projects – a phone call about that and we realized that the initial concerns that both sides have are quite similar. And, hence, the idea of looking at each other’s activities and sharing the data can make a lot of sense.


There are different lists of chemicals of interest available in the US and the EU. How are these lists going to be affected?

Every year in November there is a draft update of the EU priority list, the so-called Community Rolling Action Plan (CoRAP) under REACH in which new chemicals are proposed to be included on the list. In 2014, we sent a draft of this to the US at the same time as it was being distributed to our Member States and made public for comments. And we would have been perfectly happy if the US told us something like, “Ah, you have proposed chemical X for year 2016; we want to work on it in 2017, so would you consider moving it to 2017?” or “You’ve proposed chemical Z, but we don’t think it’s really that interesting, so why don’t you take chemical A instead?” Likewise, the US EPA is periodically updating its priority list, the so-called Chemicals Work Plan. At the stage where we make a draft update of the priority lists it makes a lot of sense to look at it together and see whether we have complementary approaches, similar approaches, or – once there is enough trust – agree that one partner works on chemicals A, B, and C and the other on chemicals E, F, and G and then we can exchange the results afterwards.

In addition, on the US side many individual States are working on their own priority chemicals. This is a reason why we would like to have better access to what is happening at the State level. We realized by coincidence, for example, that California, in the framework of its Safer Consumer Products legislation, started to work on dichloromethane used in paint strippers. We have already regulated this in the EU. So we could immediately provide what we have to the authorities in California and we could see together whether there is a need to review what we have done in the past.


Would it save time and money if there were only one evaluation for each chemical?

Yes, ultimately this would be best. But before we get there, we probably need a stage where we work together and see that we can trust each other and that we have faith in the thoroughness and the results that each of us produces.


When looking at TTIP, what would you say are the main advantages for REACH?

The advantages that I see are for those who implement REACH by acquiring more information and better data. For example, one of the questions that came up in the conversation on nonylphenol was about the levels of production and use. The US has an inventory report that is updated every so many years, so they have figures on how much of a chemical is actually produced and used in the US. In the EU we do not have very precise information on the tonnages. Assuming that the patterns of use are comparable, the EU authorities can draw some conclusions on volumes from the US data.

Another area in which the US is very good is the development of non-animal testing methods under the Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast) project. So if colleagues on our side working on these issues could intensify their work with the US colleagues, that would be another possible advantage without immediately linking to any specific activity under REACH. Avoiding animal testing is among the four main objectives of REACH.


And do you see any disadvantages?

I don’t. But I am pretty sure that if you talk to NGO stakeholders, for example, ChemTrust or the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), they will give you a list of disadvantages. But I don’t share their views.


So what do you say about press releases from CIEL that say, for example, that industry is trying to lower the limit values for pesticides?

First of all, pesticides fall under a completely different sector; they are not part of my work on chemicals. There is a separate group looking at pesticides for TTIP.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) have developed a paper outlining their position on chemicals under TTIP. CropLife America and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) have done the same for pesticides. It is probably a bit unfortunate, that the latter two called for a change of legislation. However, it does not mean that the Commission or the US EPA will accept it.


Is the EPA part of the negotiating teams?

Yes, both for chemicals and for pesticides, because the EPA is the responsible authority for the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and for the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the US. The EPA has different offices and one of the offices is for pesticides, another for chemicals.


It looks like the public is not really involved in TTIP. Will that change or is it just a misperception?

I think our DG TRADE colleagues were a little bit surprised by the huge interest in TTIP compared to other free-trade negotiations. The EU has conducted many negotiations before, but there was never a lot of interest from the public. TTIP, however, has caught public attention very strongly. Of course, we have reacted to that. Now everything is made public, all the documents from our side, and there are regular meetings with civil society on different topics. We had one session on chemicals; there was a session on pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and cosmetics. It is free for anybody to register for and participate in these events. They are announced on the DG TRADE website. If you check there, you will also find summaries of events that have already taken place.

In addition, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the Chief Negotiator for the EU, has set up an advisory group with representatives of industry, NGOs, consumer organizations, trade unions — the whole spectrum of interested parties. So while maybe it was true that nobody had thought too much about public involvement in the beginning, when the criticism came, the Commission definitely responded and we are still committed to doing as much as we can to keep the public informed and on board. How the US works on its side is up to their own rules and habits.


Once TTIP is all passed and finalized, will it be used as a model for other trade agreements?

It is certainly an idea that when the EU and the US define rules for a trade agreement of this size, which represents so much of the world economy, it should indeed be a model of inspiration for future deals with other (big) partners. The US and the EU together represent 50 % of global gross domestic product (GDP).


What got you interested in this topic? You were a polymer chemist before, correct?

A lot of coincidences happen in life. I studied for a year in the US and on the flight back I saw an ad in a big daily German newspaper that the European Commission was looking for people with technical scientific training who wanted to become interpreters. I became interested in this, as I also love languages a lot and I thought perhaps I don’t want to spend my entire life doing research. I also had a symposium that week in Brussels on the topic that I researched at university. So I walked into the Commission’s office for personnel and asked about the interpreter job. It didn’t work out, because the requirement was to already speak three other languages fluently, which wasn’t the case for me. But then by coincidence there was a general competition running – in order to work for the Commission you have to pass a competition – and the deadline was just one week away. So I sent in my documents. The whole process took almost two years, but then I got the offer to join the Commission.

I then started in the Agriculture and Rural Development department as a wine controller, doing inspections. Chemical analysis plays a big role in fraud detection and prevention for wine. Later on, I moved into other departments responsible for chemicals legislation. To gain a broader view, mobility is strongly encouraged in the Commission.

And I have no regrets. I don’t miss the lab at all. Chemists can do everything — as we learned at university.


Thank you very much for this interview.

Klaus Berend studied chemistry at the universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg in Germany, and Stanford, CA, USA. He obtained his PhD in polymer chemistry from the University of Freiburg, Germany. Berend was Deputy Head of Unit in DG Environment at the European Commission, Brussels, Belgium, before he became Head of Unit in DG Enterprise & Industry (now DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs).

Image: © Messukeskus Helsinki


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