Two Reagan Cabinet members have approved plans to make it much easier for U.S. companies to export hazardous goods that have been banned or restricted in this country.
In a proposed policy statement now under review by a cabinet-level committee, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige urged the administration to eliminate almost all rules that now require manufacturers to notify foreign governments before they ship abroad any goods deemed too dangerous for widespread use in the United States.
Additionally, the two cabinet officials for the first time called for a repeal of the long-time ban on export of drugs and other biological medical products that are not approved for use within this country.
An example, one expert said, would be a contraceptive that government officials refused to approve for U.S. use after the drug was found to cause cancer in dogs. If the ban were repealed, the contraceptive could be exported to countries that permit its sale.
The new export policy--parts of which require legislative action --could also make it easier for U.S. companies to export banned pesticides, such as DDT, lindane and endrin, and tightly regulated chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons and asbestos.
Under current rules, these products can only be exported after U.S. officials have notified or obtained consent from the importing country.
Haig and Baldrige argue that these restrictions are unnecessarily cumbersome and costly and hurt U.S. firms in international trade.
However, Jacob Scherr, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., argued that the change in policy "will open the floodgates for dumping overseas."
"The United States is the only country currently providing notification of hazardous substances exports," Haig and Baldrige wrote U.S. Trade Representative William E. Brock, who heads the trade policy committee that is reviewing the proposed policy statement.
The committee is composed of a number of cabinet members who will make a final recommendation to the president. However, administration officials note that because two of the top cabinet members on the committee have drawn up the policy, the chances are very small that there will be any change before it is sent to Reagan for his approval.
The proposed policy paper argues that concern about hazardous exports "fail to take into account that substances may be 'hazardous' under U.S. regulations while considered 'safe' abroad, and that the risks and benefits of using particular hazardous substances may vary from country to country."
For example, the paper says, the benefits of malaria control may outweigh the risks of using a pesticide banned in the United States.
Additionally, the paper argues, "countries might interpret the U.S. assuming responsibility for deciding what is good for them as an infringement on their sovereignty."
Additionally, they argue that the government should move away from almost all of its current requirements of notifying foreign governments of nearly every shipment of hazardous goods they are about to receive.
Instead, they propose that the Department of State notify foreign embassies in the United States of all U.S. regulatory actions that ban or severely restrict the use of a product--even though that notification may come years before any hazardous goods are shipped abroad.