This past summer Europe raised the stakes in trans-Atlantic bargaining power. New chemical laws went into effect a couple of months ago which have sent American businesses scrambling back to the drawing board to seek newer and safer ways to create and enhance products that will flow into the European market – a market of 27 countries and almost 500 million people.
The new laws in the European Union require companies to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it enters commerce – the opposite of policies in the United States, where regulators must prove that a chemical is harmful before it can be restricted or removed from the market. Manufacturers believe that complying with the European laws will add billions to their costs, possibly driving up prices of some products.
Of course, the Bush administration and the U.S. chemical industry adamantly oppose the E.U. laws, which will be phased in over the next decade. The laws also call for the European Union to create a list of “substances of very high concern” – those suspected of causing cancer or other health problems. Any manufacturer wishing to produce or sell a chemical on that list must receive authorization.
From its crackdown on antitrust practices in the computer industry to its rigorous protection of consumer privacy, the European Union has adopted a regulatory philosophy that emphasizes the consumer.
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Compare the European Union’s position to that of the lenient regulatory scheme in place in the United States which has led to the banning of only five chemicals since 1976. The EPA relies on the chemical industry to voluntarily stop production of suspect chemicals. Another instance of the fox guarding the chicken coop. What is truly amazing is the fact that many of the cleaners and substances we use everyday have never been tested for safety. The only visible warning is the skull and crossbones and the label warnings on the containers.
Focusing on consumer protection in the European Union has upped the ante for American businesses. Imagine that – what a novel idea to really worry about protecting the consumer.