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Brussels, 17 November 2008

Consumers: European Commission hosts first high level EU-China-US product safety summit

EU Consumer Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, the US Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nancy Nord, and the Chinese vice-Minister of AQSIQ, Wei Chuanzhong, met today in Brussels for the first high-level trilateral summit on product safety. The high level meeting is intended to send a strong political signal of the determination of all sides to keep product safety at the top of the international political agenda, recognising that open markets can only be built on strong and secure management of global product supply chains. The tripartite meeting will step up EU- China - US co-operation. First, a revised Memorandum of Understanding strengthening bilateral co-operation between the EU and China to enforce product safety standards and strengthen cooperation and exchange of information on food safety will be signed by Commissioner Kuneva, Commissioner Vassiliou and vice-Minister Wei prior to the high level meeting. Then, trilateral priority areas for action will be agreed and set out in the joint press statement, including on product traceability, co-operation by all three parties on toy safety standards, expertise exchange and joint enforcement actions. Finally, discussions will focus on action to strengthen information exchange between the partners on alerts and recalls – in particular using new US product safety legislation which will allow more open information exchange on product recalls and dangerous products. Today's activities are part of a broader Product Safety Week, which is being hosted by the Commission from 17-21 November.

Commissioner Kuneva said: “Trust is the currency of the global economy. There is no room for complacency, and every week there are alerts which remind us that we must never allow safety issues to slip from the very top of the political agenda. This high level product safety summit sends a very clear signal about the determination of leaders in Europe, China and the US to put the safety of citizens first and to keep up the political momentum to insist that standards are high and fully enforced at every step along the global supply chain. We are strongly in favour of open and competitive markets, with all the benefits in terms of price and choice they bring for millions of consumers, but never at the expense of safety."

EU-China-US Trilateral Summit

Today's trilateral summit is the first time that the EU, China and the USA have met at such a high level to discuss product safety, signalling their willingness to coordinate closely in this area and reinforcing their mutual commitment to enforcing high safety standards. The European Commission's Rapid Alert System for dangerous consumer products (RAPEX), has consistently shown in recent years that approximately 50% of goods withdrawn from the EU market are of Chinese origin.

This is a function of course of the huge trade flows of consumer goods coming from China – for example, around 85% of toys on the European market are made in China. Equally it is clear from the RAPEX figures that significant numbers of products recalled and withdrawn are manufactured within the European Union or the US. Product safety is a common concern that involves many actors, and there is work to be done on all sides to enforce and control the safety of products at every stage along the supply chain, from design to production to retail.

Today's meeting follows on from a series of initiatives over the past year to deepen EU-China-US co-operation in the area of product safety, including joint outreach seminars on compliance held in China in September 2008. A further high level trilateral summit is planned for 2009.

Memorandum of Understanding

Commissioner Kuneva and Commissioner Vassiliou and vice-Minister Wei signed a renewed and extended Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on product and food safety and sanitary and phytosanitary issues (SPS), including many of the concrete improvements that were achieved between the EU and China made over the last couple of years through mutual cooperation. The upgraded MoU provides, for example, the possibility for joint enforcement actions to be carried out i.e. whereby the EU and China would carry out coordinated and simultaneous checks on particular sectors of their own markets/producers to check that product safety standards are being met. The Memorandum updates references to the RAPEX-China system, including quarterly reporting and the related efforts of both sides, mentions the established product and food safety/SPS working groups between the EC and AQSIQ, and clarifies the confidentiality understanding related to the exchange of information on unsafe products. It further develops EU-China cooperation on food safety, notably by providing China with immediate access to the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) notifications concerning China. The MoU was first signed in 2006.

Product Safety Week

International Product Safety Week, which is being hosted by the Commission in Brussels until 21 November, brings together a wide range of stakeholders involved in product safety. Meetings and workshops are scheduled to push forward various aspects of the EU's product safety agenda. These include: a meeting of regulators of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Caucus (ICPSC), a training symposium of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organisation (ICPHSO), the closing conference of a PROSAFE project on Enhancing Market Surveillance through Best Practice (EMARS), an EU/China Regulators Working Group on the rapid alert system for unsafe consumer products and a Joint EU-China Market Surveillance seminar which this year focuses on product traceability.

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