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Questions and Answers on Commissioner Kuneva's visit to the Port of Hamburg

European Commission - MEMO/07/478   21/11/2007

Other available languages: none

MEMO/07/478

Brussels, 21 November 2007

Questions and Answers on Commissioner Kuneva's visit to the Port of Hamburg

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 the Commission doing to support national market surveillance authorities?

To facilitate the market surveillance efforts by the Member States, the Commission is financially supporting cross-border enforcement actions by the national authorities. This has resulted in several 'joint actions', for instance regarding playground equipment, cord extension sets, lighting chains and lighters.

Two specific projects are worth highlighting:

  • PROSAFE (an informal network of market surveillance authorities in Europe) is currently undertaking a 3-year project[1] to develop best practices for market surveillance, which includes the development of a knowledge base, a Rapid Advice Forum, a handbook, risk assessment guidelines and a European training framework for market surveillance officers.
  • Member States in the Baltic Sea Region have recently started a project to improve cooperation, specifically focusing on the collaboration between market surveillance and customs authorities.

Regarding the obligation for economic operators to notify national authorities in case of any voluntary measures taken regarding unsafe products, the Commission is developing an internet tool to facilitate this notification process.

Finally, the Commission organises on a regular basis training workshops for the national authorities in charge of the operation of RAPEX in the Member States, to improve the functioning and effectiveness of the system. Over the last 2 years, 20 Member States profited from this training, which reached around 1000 market surveillance officials.

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 are most recent RAPEX statistics?

October 2007 saw an all-time high of 179 RAPEX notifications;

  • 69% of all notifications during the same month concern Chinese products against an average of 48%; and
  • Toys were the subject of 39% of all October notifications against an average of around 25%.

The diagram below shows the constant increase in the number of notifications to the RAPEX system.
2007 data is based on an extrapolation of data for the first 10 months of the year

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Notably, just under half of all notifications concern products of Chinese origin, a percentage that, despite the significant increases in Chinese exports of goods to the EU, has remained largely stable over the last years. Toys were the most notified product in 2006 (24% of all notifications).

Moreover, the first ten months of 2007 saw an overall rise of 56% in the total number of notifications (see diagram below), reflecting increased action by Member State' authorities and a better assumption of responsibility by businesses.

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

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 Commission doing to stop unsafe Chinese products being imported to the EU?

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on general product safety between the Commission and the Chinese General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) was signed in January 2006.

The MoU establishes a framework for better communication and collaboration between both regulators and specifically seeks to support the Chinese authorities in their efforts to ensure product safety, particularly for consumer goods exported to the EU.

The MoU puts in place a number of practical measures, including joint meetings, exchanges of information and follow-up to identified problems. One important measure in this context is that RAPEX information concerning products of Chinese origin has been made available to AQSIQ, thereby allowing them to directly follow up on notifications regarding unsafe products. This system is also allowing AQSIQ to develop and target a national market surveillance and rapid alert system to improve consumer protection. This is essential, as nearly half of the dangerous consumer products detected in the EU are coming from China, which is largely due to the fact that over the last decade China has become one of the EU's leading trading partners.

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. In 2006, more than 2 million counterfeited toys and games were seized by the EU customs. Counterfeited toys and games rank sixth as the most counterfeited article, after cigarettes, medicines, clothes, electrical equipments but they come before cosmetics, foodstuff and computer equipment. 85% of counterfeited toys and games originate from China and this share has increased by 41% since 2005.

As a result, cooperation with China mainly focuses on counterfeiting and is dealt with under the EU-China Customs Cooperation Agreement signed in 2004. The agreement aims to improve customs co-operation to facilitate trade, increase security and step up the fight against counterfeiting piracy and customs fraud.

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?

Tomorrow, 22 November 2007, the Commission will present the first results of the two-month stocktaking of how product safety is ensured in the European Union . This exercise included an assessment and recommendations on the regulatory framework, the role of national authorities and economic operators, and relations with international trade partners such as the People's Republic of China and the US. The Commission's note will include recommendations for further steps, including "emergency" measures as provided for by article 13 of the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD).

Specifically with respect to the involvement of customs authorities in ensuring product safety, and in a response to identified weaknesses in the legislative framework, in the beginning of 2007 the Commission presented a proposal for a New Legislative Framework for the marketing of products, which will make it compulsory for them to perform checks regarding the safety of products entering the Community. It will also allow for the destruction of products presenting a serious risk.

The stocktaking exercise also highlighted two further areas for strengthening our cooperation:

  • Firstly, after a successful pilot project on mini-motor bikes, the development of Commonly Agreed Priority Control Areas (CPCA) will allow the Union to carry out targeted control actions relating to a specific type of goods, for example toys originating from a certain third country.
  • Secondly, concerning the Community customs risk management system and the use of Risk Information Forms, it is necessary to establish closer cooperation between the responsible customs services and the authorities operating alert systems, in the consumer product and food areas. In this way, information from the RAPEX and RASFF systems about unsafe products can be circulated to customs authorities more quickly.

Where can I find more information?
For more information please visit:

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/index_en.htm
European Commission's product safety pages:

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cons_safe/index_en.htm
RAPEX:

http://ec.europa.eu/rapex


[1] The project is entitled EMARS which stands for Enhanced MARket Surveillance through best practice. More information can be found on www.emars.eu


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