Industry welcomes government's proposed changes to post-Brexit chemical regulations

Tue 14 Nov 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Chemicals in test tube

The UK’s chemical regulation scheme is set to diverge from the EU’s, after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced a change to the post-Brexit system.

Following Brexit, the UK established an independent regulatory framework for chemicals known as UK Reach, initially borrowing heavily from the previous regime.

The European version, EU Reach, continues to apply in Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework.

No ‘replica’

The government has said that not all data collected under EU Reach will be required under the UK version, indicating that the two versions will continue to diverge from one another.

According to a statement from Defra: “it has become evident as part of the review, that our regulators do not need to hold a complete replica of all the registration data on all chemical substances held under EU Reach in order for UK Reach to undertake its regulatory work.”

Industry experts have said that the proposals could result in less laboratory testing and lower compliance costs.

Possible benefits

Suzanne Alecrim, academy special project team lead at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) said that the move was likely to be welcomed by industry.

“Mirroring the EU regulations in the UK was a cost-burden to the industry, it was not as straightforward as copying over the EU REACH regulations.

"At some point, businesses would be expected to carry out new tests on existing substances that were registered under EU REACH, which would require significant investment and administration.”

Alecrim, who has extensive experience in the chemical industry, mentioned that businesses were impacted heavily by the initial introduction of UK REACH, with many SMEs deciding it was no longer viable to trade, due to the additional costs required to be compliant.

Defra’s changes could help smaller domestic companies avoid these extra costs, with a significant reduction of an estimated £2 billion costs to industry, she said.

“We are in a unique position in being able to update the regulations to be fit for GB industry and to build on the work that the industry has done under EU REACH previously,”

“EU REACH will continue to apply in Northern Ireland, under the Windsor Framework and businesses will have to comply with EU REACH if they export their products to Northern Ireland or Europe.”

She added that, although there remains a possibility of regulatory divergence, decisions could be made with the flexibility to react quickly to take action on chemicals that present the highest risk to Great Britain.  This allows for targeted regulatory action to ensure the safety of human health and the environment.

Announcement welcomed

The Chemical Business Association (CBA) welcomed the announcement.

CBA chief executive Tim Doggett said:

“The latest announcement regarding UK Reach is what we have been campaigning for since December 2021. The uncertainty around UK Reach continues to stifle investment and have a negative impact not just on the chemical industry, but industry as a whole and its ability to trade, innovate and grow.”

However Chloe Alexander, the UK chemicals campaigner at charity CHEM Trust, told the Guardian that:

“These proposals demonstrate the faults of a standalone system which insists on being independent of EU Reach – that makes it extremely difficult to minimise costs on industry without leaving consumers and the environment less protected from harmful chemicals.”

She added that the news confirmed her organisation’s “long-held view that the UK Reach model will continue to be a poor relation to EU Reach.”