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Speech by DGTI at European Commission seminar on REACH (English Only)

     Following is the speech by the Director-General of Trade and Industry, Mr Joseph Lai, at the "Selling in Europe? Be REACH Compliant. Policy Makers Meet Industry" seminar organised by the Office of the European Commission in Hong Kong and Macao today (April 2):

Good morning Felipe (Palacios Sureda), distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,
     It is my pleasure to be invited to this seminar organised by the European Commission's Office in Hong Kong and Macao. I understand that this is the first time experts on REACH from the European Chemical Agency and senior colleagues from the European Commission (EC) overseeing the REACH initiative are here in Hong Kong to conduct a dialogue with stakeholders. Let me congratulate the EC Office for organising this very important seminar. And may I express my thanks to the speakers who travelled a long way to assist our businesses in understanding and preparing for compliance with the regulation.

     The European Union's (EU) Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, or what is commonly referred to as "REACH" in short, is the EU's new law dealing with the safe use of chemicals. It complements the EU's other environmental and product safety regulations, all of which aim to improve protection of human health and the environment from the risks of chemicals.

     REACH came into force in June 2007. It introduced an obligation for EU manufacturers and importers to register with the European Chemical Agency every chemical substance on its own, in mixtures, or used in goods, in quantities above a specified limit. While European importers have to file dossiers with the European Chemical Agency on the chemicals in their imports, their suppliers in Hong Kong, including those dealing in our major exports such as toys, textiles and clothing, electrical appliances, are affected because they have to provide their clients with the required information.

     Understandably some traders in Hong Kong are concerned about this new arrangement. REACH is considered by some quarters as one of the most complicated technical regulations in the world. Such concern also stems from the fact that the EU is one of our biggest customers. In 2008, the EU was our second largest trading partner, with bilateral merchandise trade worth more than 600 billion Hong Kong dollars. It is the major market for our exports including clothing, telecommunications equipment, jewellery, toys and games and so on. The business community knows very well that it cannot afford to lose out in trading with this most important market.

     On the part of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, much has been done to support the industry in understanding and complying with the requirements of REACH. My department, the Trade and Industry Department, has been monitoring developments on REACH continuously, and has been keeping our local traders informed. Early last year, we set up a dedicated EU Information Page on the department's website. It provides a one-stop portal for the public to access information on the latest developments on REACH and other EU regulatory issues. In addition, the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund has provided funding support to two projects run by two different major chambers of commerce to organise workshops, seminars and to issue publications to assist manufacturers and traders to meet the REACH requirements.

     Other trade and industrial supporting organisations have also responded actively in preparing their clients for the implementation of REACH. For example, the Hong Kong Productivity Council and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council have hosted seminars and workshops as early as the drafting stage of REACH. Their publications also provide regular updates on the developments of the regulation.

     Even with all these preparatory steps, however, nothing can beat hearing from the horse's mouth. I am therefore glad to see that the European Commission has taken this initiative to line up experts from Helsinki and Brussels to have direct dialogue with the trade, and to answer their questions. I would also like to praise the Commission for taking care of not only businessmen in Hong Kong, but businessmen in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) as well. Our businesses have been operating in the PRD since 1980s. Their investments there, as well the number of employees they hire, are substantial. So REACH is as pertinent to their Hong Kong operations as their PRD ones.

     Some of you may have noticed that the seminar today is launched as part of the Business Information Programme in Hong Kong. This is another initiative of the European Commission to strengthen communication with Hong Kong businesses on issues emerging in the EU which may affect trade. I am grateful to the Commission for actively assisting the trade to increase the transparency of their technical regulations on product safety and other areas. Clearly, joint efforts by all parties in the global supply chain are essential to the successful and smooth implementation of these regulations. I understand that activities in other areas, including intellectual property rights, environmental protection and market access, are in the pipeline. I would like to encourage our businessmen to participate in these activities for their own benefit.

     Allow me to stop here and leave as much time as possible for the speakers to enlighten us. I am sure you will have a very fruitful seminar today.

     Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, April 2, 2009
Issued at HKT 12:00


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