What Africa’s growth means for the chemicals industry

Q&A with Véronique Garny, director product stewardship at Cefic 

Africa is one of the fastest-developing regions in the world right now. This growth is something the chemicals industry can tap into, but the rise of the sector on the continent also means that chemicals management needs to become more sophisticated. 

Véronique Garny, director of product stewardship at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) spoke about the opportunities and challenges in the region at Regulatory Summit Europe 2019, so we caught up with her to find out more.

Q) How do you think the rapid pace of development in Africa will impact chemicals management in future?

If you look at the demographic forecasts, the African population is steadily growing. That means their consumption will grow too and so will the need for chemicals, be it locally produced or imported.

The trade in chemicals between the EU and Africa has likewise been increasing over the last ten years and is likely to continue to do so.

This means African countries will need a more adequate chemicals management framework to ensure that consumers and workers can use chemicals safely. But if we look at how many countries in Africa have implemented the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labelling of chemicals or Responsible Care, there is only a handful. The main challenge that we face is to introduce some basic level of chemicals management in more African countries. This is what we are trying to do through Saicm [Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management] – share the best practices of sound chemicals management implemented in developed countries with emerging markets.

Q) The EU has plans to invest 10m jobs in Africa in five years... will the chemical sector get a part of that? Does Cefic have concrete actions planned in Africa?

The African demography is expected to grow exponentially and so will demand in chemicals, which creates opportunities for the EU chemical industry to invest in this region.

At Cefic we don’t have any specific ‘action plan for Africa’ but what we want to focus on, at the moment, is helping these countries to improve the way they produce and use chemicals.

As a member of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), Cefic strives to ensure that all people enjoy the same high standards of chemical safety regardless of where they live.

The first step is to encourage these countries to sign up and implement the Responsible Care principles as well as train local authorities on the best practices in chemicals legislation through the Saicm programme. What could be effective moving forward is to include conditions for basic chemicals management in trade and development agreements between the EU and African countries.

Q) Which countries are leading the way in terms of courting investment, and in encouraging sound management of chemicals?

Investment in chemicals during the past ten years in Africa has doubled compared with the years 1997-2006. The bulk of this goes to the countries with the largest chemical production volumes, led by South Africa and Kenya. These countries are also currently ahead of others on sound chemical management practices. Other countries including Zambia, Ghana and Ivory Coast are also keen on modernising their chemicals management systems.

Still, when we look at the map of Africa, we continue to see more blank spots in terms of basic chemicals management. It is important to ensure that we match the growing demand in chemicals with improving chemical safety rules.

Q) Marco Mensink has said he wants the Commission to not just push investment and job creation in Africa but also encourage regulations like basic GHS implementation. Have those discussions moved forward at all? The new Commission is just taking over, has there been any indication that they're interested in the Africa market?

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) has shown some interest in supporting chemicals regulation in Africa. But as of now there is no specific project linked to chemicals management behind the generic support for Saicm with no particular focus on Africa. We are open to discuss this with the upcoming Commission.

Q) Cefic and the ICCA has talked about its Responsible Care initiatives in Africa. How much money has Cefic and its members put into developing these programmes in Africa, and how is it ensuring their oversight?

Cefic supports the programme by organising and running workshops in Africa to educate local industry representatives about the principles of Responsible Care and how to implement it. We work closely with national chemical industry associations on this. Recently we have had workshops in Morocco to engage with the French-speaking industry representatives in Africa. As part of the ICCA we also have several activities in Kenya and, together with Germany, are pushing for GHS implementation in Ghana and Ivory Coast. In our experience of working with emerging markets, it is not the amount of funding that makes a difference but whether we can engage with the right people and on the relevant subjects. The more we know about the needs of local industry or authorities on the ground, the better we can equip them with the right knowledge and skills.

Q) What are the concrete outcomes from these initiatives? Are you satisfied with them, or does more need to be done?

One of the outcomes of the workshop we held recently in Morocco is that Tunisia, Guinea and Ivory Coast have showed interest in joining Responsible Care. On 23 October we expect these countries’ representatives to sign a symbolic certificate in which they commit to join the Responsible Care initiative in the next three years. Cefic has offered to help them with implementation. We see the expansion of Responsible Care as critical for developing countries making the first step towards basic chemical safety. Although the programme is voluntary, it creates the necessary momentum on the ground to improve the safe management of chemicals and connects the implementing countries with the global Responsible Care community. We will be working to encourage more African countries to join this.

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The views expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and are not necessarily shared by Chemical Watch.