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Parliamentary question - P-004602/2011(ASW)Parliamentary question
P-004602/2011(ASW)

Answer given by Mr Potočnik on behalf of the Commission

1. The Commission would like to thank the Honourable Member for bringing this important issue to its attention. We share his concerns; nevertheless the Commission does not have competence to monitor extraction and use of neodymium in China. The Commission is aware of the environmental concerns in China and among them problems specifically related to water, waste and heavy metal pollution. It regularly raises those concerns with the Chinese authorities through the official environmental related dialogues.

Heavy metal pollution has been made a priority item of legislation by the Chinese National People's Congress for the next Five Year Plan, but the Commission is not aware of any intention of the Chinese regulators to include neodymium in their legislation. More in general and from a trade perspective, concerns over the Chinese policy on rare metal and rare earth were raised with Chinese authorities at the last EU‑China High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue that took place in 20 and 21 December in Beijing.

2. There is no legal text that imposes requirements on the production or extraction of neodymium taking place outside of the European Union. This metal is also not subject to an import ban.

However there are legal requirements imposed on importers of neodymium based in the EU.

According to the REACH Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006[1], any manufacturer or importer of a substance, either on its own or in one or more mixture(s), in quantities of 1 tonne or more per year shall submit a registration to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The registration dossier to be submitted must contain information concerning the hazards of the substances and whether they could pose risks when being used. In the absence of a timely registration, placing on the market of substance is prohibited in the EU. As it results from a chemical extraction process, neodymium would fall under the definition of substance under REACH as a chemical element obtained by any manufacturing process. All imports of neodymium into the EU would be subject to this requirement when they amount to more than 1 tonne per year. It must be noted that different deadlines apply according to the tonnage of import. Thus if a company based in the EU imports more than 1 000 tonnes per year, it should have already submitted its registration to ECHA before 1 December 2010. If it imports in quantities between 100 and 1 000 tonnes per year, the importing company must submit a registration to ECHA before 1 June 2013. Below 100 tonnes and above 1 tonne per year, the registration deadline is 1 June 2018.

Toxic by-products of neodymium are not subject to registration as long they do not enter the EU market.

3. If the REACH registration requirement is not met, Member States must apply penalties (criminal and/or administrative depending on the Member State) according to their national law to the importer that has placed on the market neodymium without registration. The importer will also have to stop placing the substance on the market.

4. European businesses that need neodymium in their products are considered as downstream users for the purposes of the REACH Regulation. Under REACH, downstream users must not place on the market or use any substances which are not registered in accordance with REACH. In this context, REACH places an obligation on suppliers to communicate down the supply chain the registration information on substances through safety data sheets which set out in exposure scenarios how to use the substance safely and which protection measures are needed. Downstream users must in turn communicate upstream and downstream about the hazards and safe conditions of use of the substances that they use. REACH thus sets out a framework for efficient communication on the risk of chemical substances or mixtures within EU supply chains. It does not however place an obligation on non-EU manufacturers to comply with environmental standards as REACH is only concerned with the substance once it has entered the EU market.

5. Although the Commission has started working on environmental footprinting by calculating life-cycle based environmental impacts, this work is at early stages and the Commission is for the moment working on a generic methodology. The policy accompanying this methodology would be developed in the framework of the sustainable consumption and production action plan review in 2012.

As far as wind turbines are concerned, they would have to be subject to specific sector guidelines that would be developed once this generic methodology has been adopted. Please note however that that there is to date no plan from the Commission to adopt specific sector guidelines for wind turbines.

OJ C 314 E, 27/10/2011