COVENTRY, UK — In October, Tom Bowtell, CEO of the British Coatings Federation (BCF), gave evidence to the House of Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee concerning plans for UK REACH. In his comments to the committee, he explained how UK REACH, as currently configured, will significantly and negatively impact the coatings and printing inks sector, as well as the chemicals industry more widely.

His evidence stressed that if the UK Government fails to negotiate data sharing as part of a chemicals annex to the EU Free Trade Agreement, the resulting need to register chemical substances into a separate UK REACH database will cost industry over £1 billion. This would put UK Coatings manufacturing - and sectors further downstream like automotive and aerospace that its members supply - at a significant competitive disadvantage to their EU competitors.

During the committee evidence session Bowtell highlighted the risk of the UK losing foreign direct investment if it is no longer an attractive place to manufacturer chemical-based products like coatings. He also expressed concern that the extra bureaucracy and cost of a mirrored UK REACH system will have a significant impact on business, especially smaller companies and downstream users who have not had to engage with EU REACH on registrations before now;

Bowtell welcomed plans to extend the registration period for substances into UK REACH from two to up to six years as a step in the right direction. However, while this measure is of some help it does not solve the underlying problems of a duplicate REACH regime. He therefore called on the UK Government to think again about the structure of UK REACH from January 1, 2021 if it cannot negotiate data sharing as part of an FTA.

Bowtell reiterated a major worry of BCF members that, even with an extended registration period, many small volume substances might be deemed economically unviable to register in UK REACH due to the fact the UK is 10-times smaller than the EU market. This could mean these small-volume substances being lost to UK manufacturers entirely. He drew attention to Chemical Watch’s recent survey on that subject, which reported that 27% of EU companies and 7% of UK companies were considering not re-registering substances in UK REACH due to cost or complexity.

Additionally, Bowtell pointed out that the proposed fee structure for UK REACH registration is the same as that for EU REACH, even though the UK market is 10-times smaller than that of the EU. If fees are to be levied for registrations into UK REACH they should be more proportionate to the size of the market.

Bowtell also explained that industry is still awaiting detailed guidance on UK REACH to be published by the UK Government, leaving businesses with little time to truly get to grips with new regulations. He asked whether the UK Government would publish its economic and environmental impact assessments for UK REACH to allow for more comprehensive debate on the subject.

Commenting on the evidence session, Bowtell said, “I was grateful to be able to give evidence to the House of Lords. It was an important opportunity to make sure the committee members understood how UK REACH is going to impact on downstream users of chemicals in the UK – like the coatings and printing inks sector – as well as on the chemicals industry more widely. Additional costs and reduced availability of substances from which to manufacture are going to be genuine consequences of the current plans for the UK’s new chemicals regime. We therefore urged the Committee to prompt the Government to publish its economic impact assessment of its plans for UK REACH so that we can see what assumptions it is making its decisions upon.

“With the clock ticking down until the Brexit Transition Period ends, the UK Government needs to recognize that unless data-sharing with the EU can be agreed as part of an FTA, the way UK REACH is currently configured will hit industry hard. There is a real risk the extra regulatory burden will lead to a reduction in foreign direct investment to the UK. Moreover, the extra costs and added bureaucracy will hit SMEs and downstream users like those in the coatings and printing inks sectors particularly heavily. We need to see more radical changes made to UK REACH – beyond the extension to registration periods already agreed – to mitigate the effects on business.”