The Migration of REACH across Eurasia The Effects of EU Chemical Regulations on China

By Michael Xu*

The Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals (“REACH”) is described as one of the most controversial and complex pieces of legislation in European history.[1] REACH aims to shift the regulatory burden from regulators having to identify chemical risks to companies having to demonstrate safe chemical uses.[2]

REACH achieves this goal essentially through imposing on the industry a burden to share data regarding the effects of chemicals on human health and the environment with actors in the chemical supply chain.[3] In order to access the EU market, these actors are subjected to a concentration of mechanisms, the most important of which are the procedures that relate to the registration, authorization and regulatory restrictions of chemicals. REACH requires manufacturers or importers to register chemical substances with the European Chemicals Agency.[4] . Certain chemicals, flagged by REACH as “Substances of Very High Concern” will require authorization before they can be placed on the EU market.[5] In addition to chemicals subjected to the authorization requirements, REACH contains a list of restrictions on chemicals that present a higher-level of risks to human body or the environment.[6]

REACH is highly influential beyond the contours of the EU. U.S. scholarship has studied the extra-territorial effect by examining the ways in which the federal government and individual states have drawn upon and used REACH to reform the U.S. chemicals regime.[7] Although the extra-territorial effect of REACH has been heavily studied, the effect of international trade on REACH’s transsystemic application is rarely mentioned. The Canadian Environmental Law Association, for example, acknowledged in a report published in 2007 that “the impact of European initiatives on Canadian corporations’ ability to export goods to Europe and the implications for international trade” have propelled Canada to reconsider their regulatory framework.[8]  Similarly, trade relations have also emerged as a key factor in generating California’s interest in REACH.[9]

Recognizing how REACH affects foreign countries through international trade poses interesting questions about its impact on China, the third largest chemicals importer of EU (contributing 6% of total EU imports of chemicals in 2016), and how the Chinese government has responded to REACH’s extra-territorial effect.[10]

In retrospect, policy changes present Chinese government’s response to REACH in a positive light. Shortly after the enactment of REACH, the minister of the General Administration Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine of the People’s Republic of China (AQSIQ) stated that REACH imposed great difficulties on Chinese exporters who were likely to be subjected to its data sharing regime.[11]  At the same time, Chinese authorities look at REACH as an opportunity to develop a new and comprehensive chemical regulatory regime.[12] In 2005, the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences (“RCEES”) was charged with the task of conducting a comparative study between EU and China’s chemical regulation and evaluation system. In a progress report subsequently published on this topic, the RCEES research group included recommendations to establish a similar legislative framework for chemicals regulation named The Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals of China (“CREACH”) and to establish a chemical safety information platform where chemical identification data, government evaluation standards and registrant information will be made available.[13]

In 2009, the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China (“SEPA”) issued the Provision on the Environmental Administration of New Chemical Substances (“the Provision”), which closely resembles the regulatory framework of REACH.[14] Similar to REACH, the Provision adopts a registration system that heavily relies on industry responsibility and data sharing. Chapter II of the Provision requires manufacturers or importers to register with the Chemical Registration Center (“CRC”).[15] Serving as an essential first step in the process of preparing a registration dossier, the registration system under the Provision applies an incremental approach where the intensity of the information sharing burden increases with tonnage band.[16]

Another chemical regulatory scheme enacted partially in response to REACH is the Measures for the Administration of Registration of Hazardous Chemicals (“the Measures”).[17] The Measures confirm that China operates a chemical registration system built upon information provided by market actors.[18]  Unlike REACH, the Measures do not require downstream users to register.[19] However, the information that registrants ought to provide is strikingly similar to which is required under REACH. Both schemes require disclosure of information regarding the classification and labeling information, intrinsic properties, the main uses and information on manufacture of the chemicals.[20] A possible concern that Chinese authorities have of imposing data-sharing obligations on downstream users is the risk of disruption in the supply chain. Given the vulnerability of the Chinese chemical market, the generation of said regulatory liability on downstream users is likely to have substantial deterrent effect on the chemical market. Conversely, the lack of data-sharing burden on down-stream users renders the Chinese risk-management mechanism for chemical manufacture incomplete. Accordingly, more governmental intervention is necessary to ensure that Chinese chemical manufacturers can successfully enter the EU market.

In addition to legislative responses to REACH, AQSIQ also implemented a helpdesk program called “REACH Cirs Group” that helps corporations address REACH compliance issues.[21] This platform provides technical support to Chinese companies, strengthens international cooperation and communication capabilities while accelerating work on chemicals export inspection and supervision.[22] REACH is also officially referenced in Chinese laws by name for the purposes of underscoring the importance of REACH research and training.[23]

In light of the foregoing observations, the effects of REACH in China has been prominent. The Chinese government’s active promotion of REACH understanding and services for Chinese exporters corroborates the positive influence it has generated in the sphere of chemical regulation.

*Michael Xu is a junior editor for MJEAL and can be reached at mikeyxu@umich.edu@umich.edu.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors only and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law or the University of Michigan.

[1] David Rennie, ‘Most controversial European law’ wins parliamentary approval, The Telegraph, (18 Nov 2005), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1503325/Most-controversial-European-law-wins-parliamentary-approval.html (quoting Gunter Verheugen, EU Industry commissioner).

[2] F.M. Christensen et al., New Assessment Tools under the New EU Chemicals Policy, Greener 41 Management Int’l 5, 7(2003).

[3] S. Erler, Framework for Chemical Risk Management Under REACH, 68 (2009).

[4]  Council and Parliament Regulation No. 1907/2006, art. 6(3), 2006 O.J. (L 396/62). [hereinafter REACH]

[5] Id. at art. 56, annex XIV.

[6] Id. at art. 67, annex XVII.

[7] J. Scott, From Brussels with Love: The Transatlantic Travel of European Law and the Chemistry of Regulatory Attraction, 57 Am. J. Comp. L. 905 (2009).

[8] Canadian Environmental Law Association, European and Canadian Environmental Law Best Practices and Opportunities for Co-operation 3 (2007).

[9] Scott, supra note 4, at 914.

[10] Eurostat, Production and International Trade in Chemicals, §1.1 (2017)

[11] Zhijian Zongju: Oument REACH Zhidu Dui Zhongguo Shi Jiyu Yeshi Tiaozhan (质检总局:欧盟REACH制度对中国是挑战也是机遇) [AQSIQ: EU REACH Regulation not only imposes a challenge but also offers an opportunity], Chinanews (Dec. 15, 2006), http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/20061215/17191102968.shtml.

[12] Id. 

[13] Project Progress Report on ‘Zhongguo – Oumeng Huaxuepin Guanli Zhengce Tixi He Huaxuepin Jiance Fangfa Tixi Bijiao Yanjiu’, Global Market Access 30 (2006).

[14] Xin Huaxue Wuzhi Huanjing Guanli Banfa (新化学物质环境管理办法) [Provision on the Environmental Administration of New Chemical Substances] (promulgated by the Min. of Environmental Protection, Dec. 30, 2009) [hereinafter “The Provision”].

[15] Id.

[16] The Provision, supra note 14, at art. 11; L. Bergkamp & N. Herbatschek, Information and Data Sharing Requirements, The Eur. Union REACH Reg. for Chemicals: L. & Pract. 203, 205 (2013).

[17] Weixian Huaxuepin Dengji Guanli Banfa (危险化学品登记管理办法) [Measures for the Administration of Registration of Hazardous Chemicals] (promulgated by the St. Admin. of Work Safety, July 1, 2012)[hereinafter “The Measures”].

[18] Id. at art. 66.

[19] Id. at Art. 67.

[20] The Measures, supra note 17 at art. 4.2; REACH, supra note 4 at annex VI.

[21] Reach Helpdesk, Hangzhou CIRS, Co. (last visited: Jan 15, 2018), http://reach.cirs-group.com.

[22] Daniel Uysesato et al., REACH’s impact in the rest of the world, The European Union REACH Regulation for Chemicals: Law and Practice at 367 (2013).

[23] Uyesato et al., supra note 22.

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