EC chemical export controls implemented

Regulations implementing in Britain a new EC Regulation on trade in dangerous chemicals will come into force on 29 November.1 The rules will give statutory backing to a "prior informed consent" system for exports of dangerous chemicals.

The EC Regulation was adopted in July and published in August. Details were given in ENDS Report 210 (pp 34-36 ).

The provisions of the Regulation did not have to be translated into British law because it is directly binding on Member States - in contrast to a Directive which gives them flexibility when drawing up implementation rules.

The new regulations do four things. They set a date for entry into force of the EC Regulation. They appoint the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) as the competent authority for the purposes of the Regulation. They make it an offence for an exporter of a dangerous chemical recklessly or knowingly to provide false or misleading information to the HSC. And they appoint the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as the enforcing authority.

Under the EC Regulation, when an exporter of a chemical which has been banned or severely restricted within the Community by other EC legislation intends to export it to a third country for the first time, he must notify the HSE 30 days in advance of the intended shipment. The HSE will then inform the third country of the shipment and of the reasons why the chemical is restricted by EC law. The list of chemicals concerned currently contains 24 items, including organochlorine pesticides such as DDT and dieldrin, PCBs, crocidolite asbestos, and various mercury compounds.

The Regulation also introduces a "prior informed consent" (PIC) procedure under which importing countries will be given the opportunity to refuse, or apply conditions to, imports of dangerous chemicals which are on a separate, internationally agreed list. This will form Annex II of the Regulation, which is currently blank.

The decisions of importing countries will be legally binding on the Community's exporters and will be enforced in Britain by the HSE.

Although PIC procedures are already in operation under voluntary guidelines drawn up by the UN Environment Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization and signed by more than 120 countries, their long-term impact has yet to be felt. As the international effort to give the guidelines teeth gathers pace, a crucial issue over the next few years will be how a decision by one or a few countries to ban or restrict a particular chemical is handled by the international system for implementing PIC, and how importing countries respond to export notifications. An international convention to achieve global compliance with the PIC guidelines is also being considered by the UN agencies in the aftermath of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

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