The Reagan administration is drafting plans to ease the way for U.S. companies to export hazardous goods that have been banned or restricted in this country.
In a draft policy statement obtained by The Washington Post, high-ranking officials at the State and Commerce departments are proposing the elimination of almost all rules that now require manufacturers to notify foreign governments before they ship goods abroad that have been deemed too dangerous for widespread use in the United States.
The types of products and materials that may be affected by the new policy range from such tightly regulated chemicals as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and chlorofluorocarbons to banned pesticides such as DDT, lindane and endrin. Consumer products that also have been banned, such as children's sleepwear treated with the flame-retardant chemical Tris, may also be affected.
According to the draft statement, a policy change is needed because the current preexport notification rules "have placed U.S. exports at a competitive disadvantage."
Noting that the United States is "the only country currently requiring notification of the export of hazardous substances," the draft concludes that such rules should be replaced by a broader information and education campaign.
Instead of notifying foreign governments at least once a year when a shipment of banned or restricted goods is to be exported, the Reagan officials propose simply providing "brief summary information" to either foreign governments or international organizations when U.S. government agencies ban or restrict a product's use, even though that notice may be years before that product is exported to another country.
"In the long run, international information sharing will have more beneficial results for the U.S. than procedures requiring specific export notifications . . . . A unified, international approach will provide a more comprehensive basis for importing nations to make decisions without jeopardizing the competitive position of U.S. exporters."
The proposed policy change may require some amendments to existing laws, according to the draft report.
State and Commerce Department officials, upset that the draft report had become public, cautioned that the policy is only a draft and could be changed before it is sent to President Reagan. Commerce Department officials said they hope to complete the report within a month.
One official involved in writing the report said there was a great deal of internal debate in both agencies over the proposed policy, with several staff members arguing that it does not protect the public's health and safety and the environment.
The two departments themselves are locked in a dispute over just who should be notified about U.S. regulatory actions to ban a product.
State Department officials argue that they should notify individual governments about each action, while Commerce officials contend that such information should go only to international organizations, such as the United Nations.
Commerce argues that it is not the U.S. government's role to keep all other foreign governments informed about hazardous products; instead, it is up to the United States merely to furnish the information to an agency so any interested government would be able to obtain it.
The policy recommendations on hazardous exports was requested by Reagan last February when he struck down an executive order issued by President Carter just five days before he left office. That order sharply restricted the export of products that either have been banned or whose use has been restricted in this country. Among other things, the order would require anyone exporting such products to obtain an export license from the Commerce Department before such goods were shipped abroad.
Despite the revocation, exporters are still required in many cases to notify U.S. government agencies before they export tightly regulated chemicals, banned products, pesticides that are not registered in the United States and medical devices that do not comply with U.S. standards. In turn, these agencies proceed to notify the officials in the foreign country for which these products are destined, either directly or through the State Department.
"In no case can it be documented under the existing shipment specific notification system that a foreign government has taken specific regulatory action in response to notification of a U.S. export," the draft report says in explaining why the current rules should be dropped.