Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twentieth Report


IMPORT AND EXPORT OF DANGEROUS CHEMICALS


(a)
(23160)
5891/02
COM(01)802


Draft Council Decision approving, on behalf of the European Community, the
Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for certain
hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade.

(b)
(23198)
5974/02
COM(01)803


Draft Council Regulation concerning the export and import of dangerous
chemicals


Legal base:Article 133 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Documents originated:24 January 2002
Forwarded to the Council: (a) 28 January 2002
(b) 25 January 2002
Deposited in Parliament: 15 February 2002
Department:Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 26 February 2002
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment:Legally and politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared, but relevant to the debate recommended on future chemicals policy


Background

  8.1  The current Community measures governing the export and import of dangerous chemicals are set out in Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2455/92[25], and, as such, they also give statutory effect to voluntary procedures adopted internationally under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The main purpose of the Regulation is to establish a common system of notification for imports from, and exports to, third countries of certain pesticides and industrial chemicals which are banned or severely restricted on account of their effects on human health and the environment. In particular, where such a substance is to be exported from the Community to a third country for the first time, the exporter must supply information which enables the relevant national authority to notify the country of destination, and subsequent exports of the substance to the same destination must be identified by a reference number assigned by the Commission in connection with the initial consignment. They must also be packaged and labelled according to the standards required within the Community. Underlying all these arrangements is the principle that the most dangerous substances can be exported only with the prior informed consent (PIC) of the importing country.

  8.2  In 1998, a Convention was established in Rotterdam setting out new prior informed consent procedures for hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade. The first of these two documents would enable the Council to approve that Convention on behalf of the Community, whilst the second would (among other things) make the necessary amendments to Council Regulation 2455/92.

The current documents

— (a) Decision to approve the Rotterdam Convention

  8.3  In so far as the main effect of the Convention is to give statutory backing internationally to the present voluntary arrangements, its impact within the Community will be limited. The main changes are that the present requirement for a one-off notification would be replaced by a need to notify the first export in each calendar year (coupled with a requirement to re-notify if no acknowledgement is received); a data safety sheet would have to be provided (in addition to the current labelling requirement); and technical assistance and training would be provided to developing countries.

— (b) Amendment of Regulation 2455/92

  8.4  Likewise, since Regulation 2455/92 already applies many of the principles set out in the Convention, the changes made in this amending proposal are limited. However, the Commission is proposing to go beyond the Convention in a number of respects. In particular, it would:

  • sub-divide the two existing categories, with pesticides being classified either as plant protection products or for other uses, whilst industrial chemicals would be distinguished according to whether they were for use by professionals or the general public;

  • ban the export of certain chemicals, and manufactured products containing them, which are banned for use within the Community, and which give rise to particular concern;

  • require chemicals to be exported at least six months before their expiry date;

  • retain export notification for all importing countries, regardless of their status under the Convention;

  • extend the provisions on information exchange and technical assistance to enable countries to implement the Convention.

  8.5  The proposal would also extend the export notification provisions to a further 22 substances which have been banned or severely restricted within the Community since 1995.

The Government's view

  8.6  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 26 February 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr Alan Whitehead) says that, since the main objective is to give information to other countries with which the Community trades in chemicals which are subject to prohibitions or other strict controls, the proposals contain no direct benefits to human health or the environment in the UK. However, in common with the Commission, other Member States and European Parliament, the Government supports the Convention, and its main concerns arise on the Commission's choice of Article 133 as the legal base (where the Minister says that most Member States, including the UK, favour Article 175), and on the proposed prohibition on the export of certain chemicals (which he suggests could, even if limited in scope, be against the spirit of the Convention, the aim of which is to give importing countries choice). Subject to these points, the Minister says that the Government supports the proposals, and will seek, by "sensitive negotiation", to ensure that the Community measure is simple, easily understood, and does not add to the requirements of the Rotterdam Convention where this would impose extra burdens without any significant benefits.

  8.7  The Minister also says that the proposals are likely to give rise to as yet unquantified administrative costs, but that the costs to industry from the ratification proposal will be minimal, with any such costs arising from the changes to the Community Regulation — though these too are likely to be low. He says that, in the latter case, the Government will provide a Regulatory Impact Assessment when it is ready.

Conclusion

  8.8  Clearly, the introduction of a legally binding Convention to underpin the present voluntary arrangements which apply internationally to the import and export of dangerous pesticides and chemicals is to be welcomed, as is the Commission's proposal to amend the existing Community Regulation in this area. Consequently, notwithstanding the outstanding Regulatory Impact Assessment on the second of these, we are clearing both documents. We do, however, consider that both documents are relevant to the debate on the Commission's strategy for a future chemicals policy which our predecessors recommended on 25 April 2001.[26]


25  OJ No. L.251, 29.8.92, p.13. Back

26  (22212) 6671/01: HC 28-xii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (25 April 2001). The debate recommendation was confirmed on 18 July 2001: HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 1. Back


 
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