The chemicals industry claims that Europe’s protection against toxic chemicals is the largest trade barrier for US manufacturing. Examples of this protection are the REACH directive (the EU’s premier regulation to register and restrict toxic substances) or the pesticides regulation. The US government has also maintained this position for a long time, saying in 2014 that the EU’s laws “are discriminatory, lack a legitimate rationale, and pose unnecessary obstacles to trade”.

REACH requires companies that want to market a chemical in the EU to prove that it is safe (or to use alternatives). The default approach under US law is that all chemicals are safe, unless proven otherwise. The EU bans thousands of chemicals that are harmful to the environment or health in cleaning products, cosmetics, paints, clothes, and electrical appliances. The US is much more lax, with only a handful of chemicals banned.

TTIP negotiations had a ‘chilling effect’ on efforts in Europe to regulate a new category of chemicals, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can cause cancer and reproductive diseases, and are particularly harmful to children. EU regulation of EDCs was repeatedly delayed, despite clear evidence of harm. Several EU countries have criticised the Commission for its lack of action. In December 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Commission had in fact “breached EU law” by failing to act.