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Brussels, 21 November 2007

Customs and product safety: Commissioner Kuneva tours the port of Hamburg

Today European Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva toured the Port of Hamburg and met with local and regional Health and Consumer Protection Authorities to discuss cross-border co-operation between customs and market surveillance authorities. During her visit, Mrs Kuneva also highlighted the two-month stocktaking analysis of the EU product safety framework, launched following several high profile product recalls over the past months: first results are to be unveiled tomorrow at a press conference in Brussels. Close co-operation is key to stopping dangerous goods entering the EU market. The ongoing joint surveillance project in the Baltic Sea Region, with participation from German, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish customs and market surveillance authorities, and sponsored by the European Commission, is a excellent example of best practice in this area.

"Two months ago we launched an extensive analysis of the European product safety framework, including the role of EU and national authorities, industry, and international trade partners," said Commissioner Kuneva. "One of the key results of this analysis is that there is a strong need for reinforced co-operation between market surveillance and customs authorities, and better communication with the EU rapid alert systems for food and non-food products. The Baltic Sea Region project shows that such an enhanced co-operation is possible and highly beneficial, and the Hamburg port leads the way in the fight against unsafe products in Europe. Tomorrow I will elaborate on further measures I recommend to tackle all aspects of ensuring product safety at EU and international level."

Commissioner Kuneva discussed the Baltic Sea Region co-operation project at Hamburg town hall and visited Hamburg port's container inspection, customs clearance and market surveillance system linked to the ZORA database (Zoll-Risiko-Analyse). This is the second visit of Commissioner Kuneva to a European port, after her trip to the Port of Rotterdam in April 2007.

The Baltic Sea Region co-operation project

The Baltic Sea Project focuses primarily on improving the cooperation and information flow between market surveillance and customs authorities in the participating countries, based on existing mechanisms such as the Risk Information Forms. The project aims to develop a common approach and best practices for enforcing the existing product safety rules while avoiding distortion of competition. Practical enforcement actions will include the development of checklists for product groups, conducting of spot tests and cooperation with testing laboratories.

Europe's Product Safety System (RAPEX)

In 2006, EU Member States notified to the European Commission's RAPEX (Rapid Alert System) for unsafe consumer goods nearly 1000 everyday consumer products such as toys, electric kettles and Christmas lighting which, according to tests or producers' own assessment, could potentially pose risks to consumers including choking, electric shock and fire. Co-operation with customs is key to ensuring product safety and the Joint Surveillance Action in the Baltic Sea Region is a project aimed at strengthening this kind of co-operation. The first 10 months of 2007 have seen a 56% increase in notifications compared to the same period in 2006, which shows a growing vigilance by the Member States in protecting the safety of European consumers.

Ports and consumer product safety

The focus of the Commissioner’s visit was to stress the importance of ports in protecting EU consumers from dangerous goods. Some 90% of all products entering Europe come in via ports, and it is therefore crucial that any unsafe products are identified immediately upon arrival and before they are distributed to the marketplace.

Given the ever-increasing volume of imports into the EU from third countries, this is a challenging task for the authorities concerned. Once a cargo has been cleared, there is freedom of movement for these goods anywhere within the EU. A high level of vigilance, pooled resources and intelligence gathering between authorities in the EU Member States is therefore necessary to help reduce the number of dangerous products arriving on the market and putting EU consumers at risk.
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