By  on July 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic agreed to share confidential information while developing policies that control public safety rules and trade for cosmetics, possibly easing the way for common ground on suitable alternatives to animal testing.

If the agreement, reached last week between the Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission, does successfully cut through some bureaucratic red tape, the beauty industry might avoid a big headache in March 2009.

Beyond that date, cosmetics tested on animals won't be allowed in the European market.

"We are working hard in Europe to develop 'alternative' methods to test the safety of cosmetics products," said Günter Verheugen, vice president of the European Commission responsible for enterprise and industry, who outlined the agreement in a speech in Brussels last week.

The European Union has approved alternatives to four of the eight tests that use animals to determine the safety of cosmetics products, but the U.S. approves of only two of those tests.

"This is going to have a very negative impact on trade," said Verheugen. "We therefore need a mutual understanding of U.S. and EU regulators that validated alternative testing methods are accepted on both sides of the Atlantic — and the earlier, the better."

Seven percent of all cosmetics sold in the U.S. come from the EU, amounting to nearly 3 billion euros (or about $4.1 billion) of business annually, he said.

"Moreover, U.S. cosmetics tested on animals will no longer have access to the EU market, affecting an additional trade volume of about 1.5 billion euros [$2 billion] per year," said Verheugen.

The new agreement to share confidential information grew out of the Transatlantic Economic Council, which was set up this spring when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President José Barroso visited President Bush at the White House.

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