The European Union’s Consumer Affairs Commission reports that an increasing number of toxic toys and skin-irritating textiles are being removed from supermarket shelves. Europe’s Rapid Information System (RAPEX) issued 2,364 notifications of unsafe non-food products in 2013, a 3.8% increase over 2012. Toys and textiles each made up 25% of the offending goods, followed by electrical appliances, including mobile phones, at 9%; motor vehicles at 7%; and cosmetics at 4%. Most of these items – 64% — originated from China. RAPEX, which includes the 28 EU states and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, was established ten years ago; it issued just 200 notifications in 2003, its first year of operation. Dangerous products also had European origins; of this 15%, 2% came from Germany, another 2% from Italy, and 1% from Bulgaria. But this proportion of dangerous goods has fallen sharply from a high in 2004 of 27%.
These numbers may point to the increased importance of REACH’s enforcement strength. Prior to the enactment of this EU commercial chemicals regulation, downstream users of commercial chemicals had little accountability to the public.
Interestingly, as we in the U.S. watch the slow-moving consideration of the CSIA as an amendment to TSCA – in part, a direct response to the higher bar set by REACH for U.S. companies seeking to sell their products in the EU – bilateral trade talks between the EU and U.S. currently underway raise concerns about muting the ability of EU commercial chemicals law to REACH across the Atlantic. The Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) negotiations focus primarily on reducing “non-tariff barriers” like differences in standards and regulations, given that tariffs and quotas between the U.S. and EU are already minimal. While the REACH registration and evaluation standards are higher than TSCA (and arguably, the CSIA as drafted), there is concern that current state laws enacted to fill in the U.S. federal void in commercial chemicals regulation would be displaced through the outcomes of these trade talks. Since the trade negotiations take place in relative obscurity, with hundreds of industry representatives and only a few public interest delegates, they give the appearance of looking to make it easier for chemical companies to manufacture, produce, and sell chemicals on both sides of the Atlantic.