Trade Bill

Written evidence submitted by CHEM Trust (TB09)

Trade Bill


· CHEM Trust welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Trade Bill Committee .

· CHEM Trust is a UK registered charity that works at EU, UK and international levels to prevent manmade chemicals from causing long-term damage to wildlife or humans, by ensuring that harmful chemicals are substituted with safer alternatives.



· The United States has long singled out the EU’s world-leading REACH chemicals regulatory system as a non-tariff barrier to trade that hinders exports of US products. If the UK does not remain aligned to EU REACH Regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), trade deals with countries with weaker systems for regulating chemicals could result in a weakening of our chemical protection standards; these countries include almost all non-European countries, including the U S . Trade deals with these countries could result in the import of everyday products containing hazardous chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment . These could include products from sofas and paint to cosmetics and toys , that contain chemicals that are linked to cancer or with declining sperm count or cause effects on intellectual development and are banned or restricted in the EU but sold in the US .

· The Trade Bill should include amendments which protect and maintain UK’s chemical protection standards from provisions in trade deals, by banning imports that would not be permissible into the EU under REACH and/or allowing no regulatory cooperation provisions on chemicals. The Bill should also include amendments for ensuring democratic scrutiny of and democratic agreement for future trade deals.

A US or EU approach to chemicals?

1. In 2015, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) compared EU regulations to those in the US and concluded that the "gulf between standards appears to be particularly wide on chemicals regulations".

2. Up until the end of the transition period, chemicals are regulated mainly through the EU REACH Regulation , which is the most sophisticated chemical regulatory system in the world . When it was created in 2007, REACH shifted the burden of proof for safety from regulators to industry, requir ing safety data for all chemicals produced at over 1 tonne per annum and ma king it easier for the use of hazardous chemicals to be controlled .

3. The EU system is working to become faster and more effective, for example by making more use of restrictions on groups of chemicals. In comparison, the US system is getting less effective and ceding to industry pressure, with more opportunities for companies to delay or block action. [1] This has worsened under the Trump administration which has  appointed ex-chemical industry staff  to the US Environmental Protection Agency. [2]

Risk Vs Hazard

4. Advocates of the US system often falsely depict it as a ‘science’ or ‘risk’ based system versus an EU ‘precautionary’ or ‘hazard’ based system.

5. However, the EU REACH system uses a combination of both ‘specific risk assessment’ where an in-depth analysis is made of exposure to a specific chemical, and ‘generic risk assessment’ . The latter says that chemicals that are particularly hazardous – e.g. those that cause cancer – shouldn’t be used in broad groups of applications, like in toys or cosmetics or sprayed in open fields . The US system mainly uses specific risk assessment, which is much slower and more time consuming and can give a false sense of accuracy. The broader approach taken under REACH to understanding risk can involve the application of the precautionary principle in cases where the scientific evidence is uncertain, but the risks are high. For example, the EU has controlled the use of a number of endocrine disrupting chemicals including Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and till receipts, while the US continues not to act on chemicals with such properties.

6. W hile hazardous chemicals that have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm and birth defects have been banned from use in cosmetics in the EU, these chemicals are only banned in the US if they pose an "unreasonable risk". Some of the chemical substances available in US products but banned in the UK include: formaldehyde, a carcinogen used in hair-straightening treatments, nail polish and eyelash glue; parabens, which are used in skin and hair products and have a tendency to mimic oestrogen in the body, disrupting the hormonal system; p-Phenylenediamine, an organic compound derived from coal tar and used in hair dyes which can trigger severe allergic reactions; triclosan, an antibacterial agent used in soaps and toothpastes which is believed to spread antibiotic resistance; and phthalates which are found in perfumes and shampoo and can lower semen quality.

7. It is very likely that consumers would prefer that level of precaution and safety for products they use on their bodies and this approach has clearly not harmed the European cosmetics industry or availability of cosmetics on the market.

8. In a recent letter, [3] the Defra Minister, Rebecca Pow MP , suggested the UK might take a different approach to regulating chemicals after the end of the transition period. She said that "UK REACH will retain the principles and fundamental approach of the EU REACH system, with its aims of ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment, as well as enhancing innovation and competitiveness " (our italics). She also said that the Government "will be looking at approaches taken by other chemicals regimes across the world"; unless those countries are within EU REACH, these systems will inevitably be weaker.

Simultaneous EU and US trade negotiations

9. The United States has long singled out the EU’s REACH chemicals regulatory system as a non-tariff barrier to trade that hinders exports of US products. The US Trade Representative’s (USTR) 2016 Report on Foreign Trade Barriers lists EU regulations on chemical safety (the REACH regulation), nutritional labelling, hormones in food, GMOs, milk quality and meat safety as measures it views in whole or in part as trade restrictions that it would like to "tear down". [4]

10. The Government has confirmed it will not be seeking associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) or to participate in the EU REACH regulatory framework for chemicals, as part of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Without a mechanism, or even a commitment, to align with EU restrictions and authorisations, the  UK regime will inevitably diverge from the EU, which will allow much greater room for manoeuvre between the US and UK for closer harmoni s ation.

11. This is also why sequencing of talks has been so important. As Sam Lowe , senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform , recently c ommented : "If the U.S. can convince the U.K. to change all the rules it disagrees with, Washington will have more leverage to argue against EU restrictions on American production methods and products… If they can get us to eat everything they put on the table, then it helps them in their discussions with the European Union, which is of course the bigger prize for the U.S. because it’s a bigger market." [5]

The risk from trade deals on UK chemical protection standards

12. If the wrong provisions are agreed in a trade agreement with the US, the UK might have to accept US products containing chemicals banned or restricted in the EU and it could also result in wider parts of the US system getting imported into the UK.

13. Trade deals increasingly include ‘ regulatory cooperation’ provisions, which can be used to undermine high standards and can result in a relaxation of standards to the lowest common denominator. This is because where differences in regulation exist, stronger regulations are often viewed as an obstacle to trade.

14. The document setting out the UK’s objectives for its trade negotiations with the US has a detailed section on non-tariff barriers on goods, [6] which gives a chemicals’ multi-national as a case example of an area in which NTB can be reduced or removed. Although there are warm words on ‘ensuring high standards and protections for UK consumers’, the document promotes regulatory cooperation on chemicals around international standards, specifically  the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals . These standards do not provide the same  level of protection as REACH, as they only describe an approach to classification and labelling of the properties of a chemical , and not the controls on the use of the chemical . There can also be dispute between different regio n s as to what the correct classification of a chemical i s.

15. Oliver Griffiths , leading for the UK on UK-US negotiations , has said that the United States-Mexico-Canada trade Agreement  ( USMCA ) is a decent starting place for a future UK trade agreement. Regulatory cooperation and harmonization run right across this agreement, including in its sectoral annexes which cover chemicals and cosmetics, as well as other sectors. T hese annexes :

a. Commit parties to continue to promote a risk-based approach in assessing and regulating chemicals.

b. Include provisions intended to limit labelling and pre-market testing of cosmetics and require parties "take into account that cosmetic producers generally present a lower potential risk for human health or safety than medical devices". On the former, which follows the principle ‘market first, regulate later’, marketing authorisations of cosmetic products are only allowed for health and safety concerns where "no less trade restrictive alternative reasonably available" such as notifications and post-market surveillance. In contrast, the EU cosmetics regulations include restrictions on Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reproductive Toxins [7] , a requirement for preservatives to be approved [8] and a process to control the use of endocrine disrupting chemicals [9] .

16. In addition, the ability of consumers to make meaningful choices and avoid these products is also curtailed, as the US also regards country of origin and other consumer labelling as an illegitimate barrier to its exports and pushes to have the practice banned as part of trade agreements it signs with other countries.

17. This alignment lasts long into the future and could obstruct the UK from bringing in stronger protections even if new evidence revealed chemical-related harms to human health or the environment. For example, in 1997, Canada banned MMT, a neurotoxin added to petrol, because of concerns over its health impact. Ethyl Corporation, a US company that produced the substance, sued under NAFTA (the Treaty before USMCA), with Canada having to settle for $19m.

18. As with concerns relating to the import of food produced to lower standards than the EU (of chlorinated chicken and hormone-pumped beef), a trade deal with the US could see the import of US products that contain chemicals that are banned or restricted in the EU.

19. Suggestions for amendment to the Trade Bill :

· To protect and maintain UK’s chemical protection standards from provisions in trade deals, by banning imports that would not be permissible into the EU under REACH and/or allowing no regulatory cooperation provisions or the use of non-tariff measures on chemicals.

· CHEM Trust supports the proposals put forward by the Trade Justice Movement for amending the Bill that would provide a framework for scrutinising trade deals and ensuring the oversight and approval of the UK Parliament and guaranteed role for the devolved administrations.

June 2020


Prepared 17th June 2020