Industry Focuses on Chemicals Cooperation as Trade Pacts Wane

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By Pat Rizzuto

Chemical manufacturers should encourage government-to-government regulatory cooperation initiatives as political support wanes for multilateral trade agreements in the U.S. and other countries, chemical industry officials say.

“The biggest trade issues faced by our members are the non-tariff barriers, and regulatory cooperation gets at those non-tariff barriers,” Greg Skelton, senior director for regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council, recently told Bloomberg BNA.

A non-tariff trade barrier, for example, could include countries requiring different elements on container labels that don’t add health or environmental information, but add to the cost of doing business, he said.

Regulatory cooperation between countries on chemical policy can reduce business costs and boost sales opportunities for all parties, Skelton said.

It’s fine to include regulatory cooperation in trade agreements, as both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership proposed, he said. But “you don’t need trade agreements to get cooperation agreements,” Skelton said.

Regulatory cooperation efforts for significant new use chemical regulations are yielding results, Lynn Vendinello, a division director working in the EPA’s chemicals office, said Feb. 24 at the Global Chemical Regulations conference organized by the American Chemistry Council. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada have been working on those efforts.

The three agencies have developed joint “primers"—basic information that can help chemical manufacturers and foreign suppliers understand their obligations, she said. Webinars based on the primers will be held in coming months, she said.

Moving Past Trade Pacts

Roberto Azevedo, director-general of the World Trade Organization, acknowledged a global anti-trade sentiment when he talked to reporters following his reappointment Feb. 28.

President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January. Trump also has said he plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and may withdraw from that treaty if he’s unable to secure something that benefits American workers.

NAFTA renegotiations will raise a host of issues—such as what mechanism should be used to resolve disputes—and may not offer the best vehicle to pursue regulatory cooperation initiatives, Sean Heather, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Feb. 24 during the Global Chemical Regulations conference (GlobalChem).

Geraldine Emberger, trade counselor for regulatory affairs with the EU Delegation to the United States, said trade agreements can be catalysts to regulatory cooperation, but are not essential to it.

Regulators must, however, recognize they could mutually benefit by cooperating with counterparts in other countries, Emberger said March 22. She spoke during a meeting on consumer safeguards for transatlantic markets.

The meeting was organized by the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, a coalition of about 75 U.S. and European consumer groups that develop policy recommendations.

Robert Adler, a commissioner with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Pinuccia Contino, head of product safety and rapid alert systems with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Justice and Consumers, told dialogue meeting participants that sharing safety concerns consumers have encountered has helped the U.S. and EU member states protect their consumers.

Contino said she would meet with the U.S. commission after the dialogue to discuss additional ways they could jointly address the safety of products sold online.

Kim Tuminaro, who coordinates the Transatlantic Economic Council at U.S. Department of State, said cooperation efforts on the science needed for future regulatory actions also have been helpful. She cited joint meetings the U.S. and European Union held on nanomaterials.

U.S.-Canada Council

The EPA, Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada have benefited from their chemicals management work undertaken through the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council, speakers from those agencies said during the GlobalChem conference.

The council was launched in 2011 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama. Regulatory agencies in both countries are working together through the council to address chemical risk assessments, locomotive emissions, medical devices, new chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Regulatory cooperation agreements could be a good option if consumer advocates are at the table and if the negotiations for the cooperation initiatives are transparent, consumer advocates said throughout the Trans Atlantic dialogue meeting.

The U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council’s risk assessment effort has undertaken interesting projects, Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who participated in the risk assessment work group, told Bloomberg BNA March 22.

The process was initially flawed, however, because nongovernmental organizations weren’t involved in selecting the risk assessment issues on which to focus, nor the chemicals for which the group prepared case studies, she said. NRDC and two Canadian nongovernmental organizations were invited to participate only after the regulatory agencies and industry participants already made the main decisions, she said.

Civil society groups must be part of a spectrum of organizations that contribute to trade or regulatory cooperation agreements, Emberger said.

Government positions that are crafted before entering into agreement negotiations should be available to the public at large, she said.

Next Steps

EPA, Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada will issue reports on their new chemicals work this summer, Vendinello said at GlobalChem.

A strategy, or “framework,” for the two countries to work together on risk assessments will be issued by the end of the year, Tala Henry, director of the Risk Assessment Division in EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, told GlobalChem participants.

A challenge for chemical and other industries is to show regulatory cooperation generates benefits, said the U.S. Chamber’s Heather.

Consumer groups working on regulatory cooperation will need to demonstrate the benefits that regulations provide, Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organization said during the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue meeting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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