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Brussels, 2 October 2007

Visit of Commissioner Kuneva to the United States, 2-5 October 2007: frequently asked questions about EU-US relations on consumer protection

Where do EU and US regulators meet to discuss co-operation on consumer protection?

Co-operation with the US on consumer policy takes place both directly with US counterparts and also under the wider umbrella of EU-US regulatory co-operation.

The Commission and the US government adopted guidelines on EU-US Regulatory Co-operation in 2002 and developed a yearly Roadmap for EU-US Regulatory Cooperation.

The 2005 Roadmap outlines three distinct regulatory "dialogues":

  • First, there are 15 sector-specific regulatory fora including dialogues on consumer protection cooperation, consumer product safety and unfair commercial practices.
  • Second, there is a cross-sector dialogue between the European Commission and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on general regulatory issues. This dialogue helps to better understand "how we regulate", and allows to compare respective approaches, including on how to assess risk, and the impacts of respective regulations. The objective is to enhance mutual understanding and to share information particularly in cases where they are likely to have significant impact on the other side.
  • Third, the 2005 EU-US Summit has set up a High-level Regulatory Cooperation Forum to provide for political support to the process. The forum addresses cross-sector issues (impact assessment, quantitative risk assessment) and best practices of sector-specific dialogues.

The April 2007 EU-US Summit has given a new impetus to consumer protection co-operation with the adoption of the framework on transatlantic economic integration and the creation of a "Transatlantic Economic Council" (TEC). The TEC aims to oversee the work of regulatory dialogues through the implementation of a work programme and to facilitate closer cooperation between the EU and the US administrations, legislators and stakeholders. The first full meeting of the TEC will take place on 9 November 2007 in Washington.

What do EU and US authorities do on product safety and market surveillance?

On non-food consumer product safety, there is continuous contact and good cooperation between the Commission and US authorities, in particular the Consumer Product Safety Commission - CPSC. This is largely based on "Guidelines for information exchange and on administrative cooperation" between the CPSC and the Commission agreed in February 2005. The provisions of these guidelines allow for exchanges of non-sensitive information concerning dangerous consumer products found on the market.
The US law does however not currently allow for detailed business-sensitive information exchanges with the EU. Another area where EU Commission cooperation with the US authorities could be stepped up is the development of greater consensus on the methodology for assessing risks (in particular, but not exclusively, chemicals) associated to consumer products.

Do EU and US authorities co-operate to stop rogue traders?

Cooperation among enforcement authorities is one, if not the only, effective means to stop rogue traders operating across borders. The EU Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) was adopted with this purpose and it therefore foresees the possibility to sign cooperation agreements with third countries (if confirmed by a mandate from the Council of Ministers).

Following the adoption of the U.S. Safe Web Act in late 2006, which provides for US cooperation with foreign governments in the fight against cross-border fraud and deception (particularly spam, spyware, and internet fraud), the European Commission and the FTC are exploring possible avenues of joint action. The EU will work within the scope of its Consumer Protection Cooperation regime, implemented through a network of national enforcement bodies.

Is there any EU-US dialogue on Unfair Commercial Practices (UCP)?

The EU Unfair Commercial Practices (UCP) directive aims at clarifying consumers’ rights and simplifying cross-border trade. It will give consumers the same high level of protection against unfair practices and rogue traders whether they are buying from their shop at their street corner or purchasing from a website based in another EU country. Businesses will be able to advertise and market to all 480 million consumers in the EU, in the same way as to their domestic customers. UCP is a "full harmonisation" directive, which means that Member States may not retain more restrictive or prescriptive national laws.

However, Member States may retain more specific rules for financial services and immovable property because of the complexity of such products. Deadline for transposition into national laws was 12 June 2007. Member States must apply the new laws by 12 December 2007. The Commission and the FTC have started a regulatory dialogue aiming at increasing convergence in their legislation concerning unfair commercial practices. Topics discussed include a comparison between U.S. substantive legal tests and corresponding tests in UCP (e.g. the modulation of the reasonable consumer test in case of vulnerable consumers; mutual recognition, country of origin and applicable law).

What is the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD)?

The TACD is the network of US and EU consumer organisations, which develops and agrees joint consumer policy recommendations to the US government and the European Commission in the context of the EU-US Economic Partnership. The TACD includes 65 consumer organisations (45 EU and national organisations and 20 US organisations). It was launched in 1998. It effectively conveys consumers’ views to governments on both sides of Atlantic. The TACD is key in contributing to the dialogues between EU and US authorities by bringing the point of view of consumer representatives to that dialogue.
The TACD annual conferences take place once a year, alternately in the US and the EU. The TACD 8th annual meeting took place on 12 March 2007 in Brussels. The 2008 TACD annual meeting should take place in Washington next spring. TACD current priorities are: intellectual property (e.g.: digital copyright), nutrition and obesity, food safety, information society issues (e.g.: mobile commerce, online consumer safety), privacy and security standards. The TACD publishes policy recommendations every year. It intends to be an active participant in the advisory group of the new Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC).

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