For many years a European Union (EU) directive on the sale and use of harmful chemical substances (directive 76/769) has been in force in Europe, but with an exemption for TBT on vessels in international trades. For a long time, therefore, the question has been: whether there would be an agreement on a ban on TBT in the IMO soon enough to prevent the EU from adding TBT to the rules of its previous directive on a regional basis. At a hearing with industry in Brussels earlier this week, it once more became clear that the EU wants to apply the new IMO rules (the Anti-fouling Convention) from 1 January 2003 even though the Convention is unlikely to have come into force by that time.

There is an important internal disagreement between various parts of the EU Commission, however, where some argue that a ban on TBT should be imposed on all vessels (irrespective of flag) trafficking in EU waters from next year whereas others - including the officials dealing with maritime transport - argue that such regional rules should at this stage only be applied to EU flagged vessels and that the rules should only be applicable to third country vessels when the Anti-fouling Convention comes into force.

Although application of the ban to EU vessels has some problematic aspects of principle attached to it, it seems unlikely that this can be resisted. INTERTANKO will, however, raise its concerns over application of a regional ban to third country vessels at a high level meeting with the European Commission.