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Brussels, 23 April 2007
Questions and Answers on Commissioner Kuneva's visit to the Dutch Food and Product Safety Authority and the Port of Rotterdam
What are the rules governing product safety in the EU?
The basic legislation governing the safety of consumer products in the EU is the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD). This Directive stipulates that products placed on the European market have to be safe and gives Member States the powers to control the market and take appropriate measures should unsafe products be found.
Next to this, there are separate rules governing the safety of several specific product groups such as toys, electrical equipment, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
What are the obligations of businesses regarding product safety?
Producers and distributors have to ensure that only safe products are placed on the market. Therefore, once they become aware that a product is dangerous, they must immediately inform national competent authorities, clearly identifying the product in question, the risks it poses and the information necessary to trace it. They must also inform the authorities of any measures taken to prevent further risks to consumers.
What is the role of EU Member States in ensuring the safety of consumer products?
Member States have to ensure that businesses respect their obligation to place only safe products on the market. To this end, they must designate market surveillance authorities with the necessary powers to take appropriate measures if they find dangerous consumer products on the market. Such measures can include a ban/stop on sales, withdrawal of a dangerous product from the market, providing information to consumers about the risks related to the use of the product, or the recall of a dangerous product already sold to consumers.
Where Member States take measures to prevent or restrict the marketing or use of consumer products posing a serious risk to the health and safety of consumers, they have to notify the Commission, via the RAPEX system.
What is RAPEX?
RAPEX (EU Rapid Alert System for non-food consumer products) is a European rapid alert system for dangerous consumer products. It ensures that information about dangerous products identified by the national authorities is quickly circulated between the national authorities themselves and the European Commission, with the aim of preventing or restricting the selling of these products on the market. 30 countries currently participate in the system; all the European Union countries and the European Economic Area (EEA) countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
What is the link between ports and product safety?
Nowadays, an increasing share of everyday consumer products is manufactured outside Europe. Sea ports handle close to 90% of all goods entering the European market, and it is therefore crucial that any unsafe products are identified immediately upon arrival at a port and before they are distributed on the market.
What is the European Commission doing to stop the influx of unsafe products into the European Union?
The European Commission is taking its responsibility in this area by pro-actively addressing potential problems. A good example of such activity is the co-operation with the People's Republic of China, which has rapidly become one of Europe's most important trading partners. This has resulted in several practical actions including training seminars for Chinese industry experts to explain the European safety requirements, in particular for toys and cigarette lighters. The European Commission also provides Chinese authorities with information allowing them to block unsafe products before they are shipped to Europe.
Are figures available regarding unsafe products entering Europe?
Unfortunately, detailed information about the percentage of unsafe products on the EU market is not available for any specific product category. However, information from the RAPEX system shows that in 2006, Member States informed the network of 924 measures which they took regarding products presenting a serious risk. Compared to 2005, this represents a 32% increase in serious risk notifications. It should be added that these notifications subsequently triggered market monitoring in all the other network countries, whereby the same product may have been found on the national markets.
These results do not necessarily mean that more unsafe products enter the EU but can be attributed to an increased awareness of product safety by national authorities and the business sector, EU enlargement in 2004, as well as to the major role played by the Commission in promoting the development of RAPEX and improving cooperation across the EU.
Do you have data about the effectiveness of border controls in the product safety area?
Data at our disposal does not always tell us where a dangerous product was found. This is mainly due to the fact that our key concern is to efficiently disseminate the product identification information provided to us by a national market surveillance authority, so that the authorities in the other countries can take measures against the same product on their markets. The ports visit initiative was launched precisely to promote closer co-operation with customs authorities and to highlight the importance of controls when products enter the European market.
What is currently the focus of customs authorities?
Until recently, the role of the Customs consisted primarily in collecting customs duties and indirect taxes at import. Numerous developments, including enlargement and globalisation on the one hand and the threat of terrorist attacks and the role of organised crime on the other, have however changed this original role. Customs authorities in the EU are committed to ensuring the safety and security of citizens, for example by combating fraud and illegal trade in drugs and weapons.
Assisting with the enforcement of product safety requirements, in close co-operation with the market surveillance authorities, is an integral part of this task.
Are counterfeit goods particularly dangerous?
It is possible that counterfeited products also pose safety risks, but so far statistical evidence for whether counterfeit goods are particularly dangerous is lacking.
Which products are most often found to be unsafe?
As in 2005, the lion's share of notifications in RAPEX concerned the following categories of products, which accounted for almost 75 % of all notified products:
Toys, electrical appliances and motor vehicles alone accounted for more than half of the notifications in 2006.
Where do most dangerous products come from?
The People's Republic of China was the country of origin for notified products in almost half of all cases in 2006 (440 notifications, 48%). This is mainly due to the large number of products imported to the European Union from China. 195 notifications (21%) concerned products originating in the 25 EU countries.
The number of notifications concerning products of unknown origin was fairly high, totalling 159 notifications (17%).
What are the next steps?
The Commission will over next year pay particular attention to activities that will facilitate cooperation between customs and market surveillance authorities, including specific product safety training for customs officials and assisting the exchange of information on dangerous products such as lighters.
Where can I find more information?
For more information please visit:
European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection: