EU Governments Raise Concern About Impact Of REACH on Small, Medium-Size Companies

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By Stephen Gardner

BRUSSELS—A number of EU governments used a meeting of the bloc's competitiveness and industry ministers Dec. 5 to call for revisions to the REACH chemical legislation, saying it imposes too high a cost on small and medium-sized companies.

Martin Kuba, the trade and industry minister from the Czech Republic, in a statement also backed by Slovakia, said that “REACH imposes [an] excessive administrative and financial burden especially on SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], and might threaten the very existence of many companies.”

The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, should “assess the real contribution of this legislation and focus on its impacts on the European economy,” Kuba said.

The Commission is due to publish a review of REACH (Regulation No. 1907/2006 on the registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals) in 2012, but has so far said the review is unlikely to result in major legislative changes (34 INER 890, 9/28/11).

Under REACH, manufacturers or importers of chemicals are required to file extensive registration dossiers with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), according to a series of deadlines staggered through 2018.

More Flexibility Urged

The Czech and Slovak call for a reconsideration of the impact of REACH on small and medium-sized companies was backed informally by Hungary, Romania, and the United Kingdom.

A Czech official who asked not to be named told BNA that the aim was not to reduce the REACH requirements, but to make it “more flexible for SMEs to live with.” Most large companies are complying with REACH without difficulty, the official added.

Possible changes could be made to the scope of REACH or to the cost of compliance, the official said.

Kuba said the “competitiveness of the European chemical industry is weakening compared to emerging economies such as China, India, or South America.”

“We want to raise the question whether certain regulatory measures adversely affect the position of European companies on the global market,” he added.

Limited SME Participation

Geert Dancet, director of ECHA, told BNA that smaller companies will be mostly concerned by the final REACH registration deadline in 2018, which applies to substances manufactured in, or imported into, the European Union in annual volumes of 1 to 100 metric tons.

The next deadline of May 31, 2013, which applies to substances in the 100-1,000 metric ton band, will be mainly “an issue for large companies,” Dancet said. This was also true of the 2010 deadline, which applied to substances in volumes of 1,000 metric tons or more.

Nevertheless, smaller companies are already affected by REACH because of the obligation it imposes on users of hazardous chemicals to submit notifications to ECHA, Dancet added.

He said that ECHA had so far had relatively little direct contact with SMEs because “consultants stand in for them.”

The raising of concerns at the ministerial level about the impact of REACH effectively requires the Commission to take them into account when it publishes the results of the REACH review, which are due mid-2012.