New chemical law blocks Africa’s reach to Europe

The European Parliament has approved a controversial legislation ‘ called Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) ‘ which will require the “safety” testing of about 30,000 chemicals used in everyday products. The new legislation, which has raised a lot of debate in Europe in the past few years, is expected to affect exports by and production processes for mining companies and paper, vehicle, cement, glass and steel manufacturers. These industries rely on chemicals for their production. The regulation will have to be approved by individual EU governments before it becomes law. If passed, REACH will require European manufacturers or importers to have their products or raw materials tested for toxic chemicals. Depending on the toxicity levels of chemicals, EU producers would be required to register the chemicals or withdraw them from production processes. The law’s promoters say it is a necessary piece of legislation to ensure human health and the environment are protected. REACH would place a “duty of care” on European companies to ensure their products are safe to human health and the environment. REACH came up for discussion during a meeting of African mining experts and government officials held in Cape Town, South Africa, in February. Meeting for the 11th African Mining Partnership, the experts asked for an exemption of African minerals like copper and gold from the law that seeks to prevent potentially toxic products from entering Europe. Ghana’s minister of mines, Dominic Fobih noted that the effects of REACH would be catastrophic on African economies “because we are already exporting US$9.2 billion [of minerals] to the EU.” The mining industry is the mainstay of most countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe derive a significant proportion of their respective Gross Domestic Products from mining. There will also be cost increases for African importers of EU products and raw materials. An impact assessment study by accounting firm KPMG showed that the direct costs of REACH would be an increase in the price of ash or blast furnace slag used to manufacture cement by between three and five percent in the first year of implementation. There are also cost implications for chemicals used in vehicle manufacture or repairs such as engine oils and paint. The legislation could also impact negatively on ongoing economic partnership agreement (EPA) negotiations between the EU and SADC. The EPA negotiations are taking place in the framework of the Cotonou Agreement signed between the EU and ACP countries in 2000. It provides for the negotiation, before the end of 2007, of new regional trading arrangements, compatible with the rules of the World Trade Organisation. The SADC-EU negotiations of the EPA were launched in Windhoek, Namibia, in July 2004.

March 2006
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