Japan, U.S. protest EC rules on chemicals

Tokyo complaint cites possible WTO violation, restrictions on imports

Japan and the U.S. have separately submitted documents to the World Trade Organization spelling out concern about draft European Commission rules on hazardous chemicals, Japanese trade sources said Monday.

Japan has forwarded to the European Commission a document saying the draft regulations could be inconsistent with WTO agreements for ensuring free global commerce, the sources said.

The document says they could result in restricting Japanese exports to European Union countries, thus limiting the flow of international commerce, they said.

The United States has also sent a document to the Geneva-based global trade referee, saying the proposed rules could be barriers to trade in goods containing chemical substances. The sources said the U.S. plans to take up the issue of the draft regulations — unveiled last Oct. 29 — at a WTO forum.

The draft rules are based on an EC policy widely known as REACH (registration, evaluation, authorization and restrictions of chemicals).

They seek to curb production, sales and import and export of chemical substances that could cause industrial pollution or damage health.

The rules would oblige makers, importers and sellers of industrial goods containing chemicals to submit detailed data on the levels of toxicity of chemicals used in an industrial product. If a certain chemical poses high levels of toxicity, its use and production would be banned.

In the document sent to the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Committee, the United States said the draft features “a particularly costly, burdensome and complex approach which could prove unworkable in its implementation, disrupt global trade and adversely impact innovation.”

It said the draft would impose “an administratively burdensome regulatory regime” on thousands of other chemicals “that are unlikely to pose any significant risk to health or the environment.”

Some EU national governments, such as those of Britain, France and Germany, have articulated similar concerns, saying the draft is too bureaucratic and unnecessarily complicated.

Environmentalist groups in Japan and the United States have blasted those who are trying to block the EC proposal, saying they are doing so because they place priority on business interests.

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