It seems self-evident that efforts to improve regulatory transparency while maintaining strong protections for the environment and human health; to enhance regulatory efficiency while reducing costs for governments and industry; and to stimulate the economy while supporting job growth should be shared objectives under the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case.
As negotiations on TTIP, which holds the potential for transformative economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic, continued in earnest this week, a collection of civil society groups (CIEL, ClientEarth and NRDC) released an internal European Commission position paper outlining areas of potential cooperation on chemical regulation. Now, an internal position paper is not a terribly “sexy” thing, so these groups saw fit to exaggerate it into a “leaked text” or “chemicals annex.” It is neither.
First of all, with regard to the paper itself, we are pleased to see that the European Commission has taken up several of the proposals put forward by industry to help promote regulatory cooperation, encourage efficiencies and enhance burden sharing between U.S. and European regulators, while maintaining high levels of protection for human health and the environment.
As we have maintained since the beginning of the negotiations, these proposals are limited in scope – they recognize that the U.S. and EU regulate chemicals in different ways, and they do not propose any changes to existing regulations. Rather, they are focused on improving the ways that these regulatory approaches interact, with the goal of reducing costs for governments and industry alike, and speeding up – not, as has been claimed, slowing down – the pace of chemical assessments.
Our proposals are focused on reducing or eliminating inefficiencies – such as unnecessarily duplicative testing and data generation and lack of scientific coordination – and promoting enhanced coordination on chemical assessments. None of these proposals will have any impact on the current strong levels of protection for human health and the environment on both sides of the Atlantic, as EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht made clear in a letter dated October 2 to civil society groups:
We strongly underline that the Commission will not even consider any measure under TTIP that may give priority to trade or economic efficiency concerns over the protection of the health of our citizens or of the environment — as provided for by the relevant EU legislation — or undermine such protection. The Commission has the duty under the Treaty to uphold and implement EU legislation, and will stick to it scrupulously. We do hope that this is not put any longer in question.
Furthermore, the claims made by CIEL, ClientEarth and NRDC are not even supported by the evidence they cite. At no point has industry or governments agreed that harmonization or mutual recognition of chemical regulations would be a workable practice, and neither harmonization nor mutual recognition is mentioned in the European Commission position paper. In addition, at no time has industry put forward any proposals under TTIP that would curtail the ability of U.S. states or EU member states to regulate.
To put it simply, the claims made by CIEL, ClientEarth and NRDC amount to little more than a regurgitation of previous claims and exaggerations (our point-for-point response here) that are unconstrained by any need to adhere to the facts. We are unsure what exactly these groups have against efforts to enhance regulatory transparency and cost-benefit analyses, which are designed to ensure that regulations adopted are as effective and targeted as possible, based on input from all interested stakeholders. To have civil society groups lament the use of “excessive and duplicative notice and comment procedures” is ironic to say the least. Are they arguing for less regulatory transparency?
In addition, the claims made by these civil society groups that the protection of confidential business information hinders innovation betray their complete lack of understanding of how innovation actually occurs in practice, and how important the appropriate protection or relevant proprietary information is to developing and commercializing new and innovative products and technologies.
It is also instructive to recall, when reviewing comments made by these civil society groups about the supposed “inaction” on chemicals management by the U.S. federal government, that these are the very same groups that have opposed the only bipartisan legislation introduced to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act.
All said, the claims made by CIEL, ClientEarth and NRDC should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt.