Stefan Thumm discusses how the European Union's chemicals legislation REACH is threatening to turn a disaster for European textile manufacturers.

As so often, the news from Asia does not bode well. A new wave of company closures in the chemicals sector in China and India triggered by environmental concerns has dealt a heavy blow to the global supply of dyes and pigments. No alternative capacities are available, particularly for the synthesis of dyes and pigments, or rather of the raw materials used for this purpose. The present global consumption of dyes and pigments cannot currently be replaced in sufficient quantities. Prices are soaring, and supplies to the textile value chain are not assured. Suppliers of dyes and pigments to the textile industry are speaking of an unprecedented situation.

Textile manufacturers have already informed the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) of this development, given that one car alone contains an average 23 kilograms of textiles - many of which are coloured by ultra-lightfast anthraquinoid dyes and pigments. It is among these special substances that the shortfall is often the highest, for the raw material anthraquinone is in very short supply. Should this development continue, it will, therefore, be our primary goal to avoid production stoppages in the automotive industry. This sector is just one example of the many textile sectors and associated value chains that are dependent on hundreds of different special dyes.

The current price spiral is driven primarily by the lack of raw materials and intermediate products needed specifically for dye and pigment production, and this is where Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), Europe's chemicals legislation that came into force in June 2007, comes in. The present aggravation of the 2013 dye and pigment crisis is linked to the REACH registration deadline on 31 May 2018. REACH has been aggravating the situation for years, initially in the field of dye and pigment production in Europe. The prohibitively expensive REACH registration fees that would have been payable for thousands of dyes, pigments and intermediate products have forced almost the entire chemical industry to relocate from Europe to Asia over the past decade. This took place concurrently with the increase in global environmental pollution in China and India. As a result, clean European Union (EU) production processes were replaced by production processes in Asia which are now being closed down by government decrees from Beijing and New Delhi due to escalating environmental pollution.

This overall development has now resulted in Europe becoming largely dependent on Asia, especially China, for its dyes and pigments just as it is in numerous other sectors. There can be virtually no question of re-establishing this industry on a wide scale in the EU because of the REACH system and its costs. In fact most of the requisite expertise in dyes and pigments is now lost from the EU.