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MEMO/08/251

Brussels, 17 April 2008

Questions and Answers: Product safety activities and follows up on the 2007 stocktaking exercise

What was the product safety stocktaking exercise and what were the main results?

In September 2007, following a series of large scale product recalls, EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva decided to carry out a stocktaking exercise to review the strengths and weaknesses of the consumer product safety mechanisms in Europe. The purpose of this exercise was to address all the main actors in the product safety process (including activities with Member States, relations with China and the USA and the role of economic operators) and, together with Vice-President Verheugen, Commissioners Mandelson, Kovacs, Kyprianou and Ferrero-Waldner, to obtain a clear overview of the existing legislative framework and related activities to identify possible weaknesses and to look at how to remedy them.

The main results of the stocktaking exercise were published in November 2007, along with recommendations for further action. For detailed information on this report, see MEMO/07/492.

What recent measures have been taken to strengthen the legislative framework for product safety?

Since the stocktaking results were published in November 2007, there have been a number of important measures taken to strengthen the product safety legislative framework:

  • (1) In January, the European Commission put forward a proposal to improve toy safety in Europe, by replacing and modernising the 20- year old Toys Directive 88/378/EEC. The proposal foresees new measures such as prohibiting the use of carcinogenic chemicals in toys, reducing the use of substances such as lead or mercury and obliging operators to issue appropriate warnings to prevent accidents.
  • (2) On 21 February 2008, the European Parliament adopted the Commission proposal for a broad package of measures to facilitate the functioning of the internal market for goods. It is expected that the Council of the EU will approve the package of measures soon, so it can enter into force next year. The package strengthens and modernises the conditions for placing a wide range of industrial products on the Community market. See MEMO/07/54 .
  • (3) Member States and Parliament have endorsed a Commission proposal requiring magnetic toys to carry a warning label regarding their potential dangers. See IP/08/345 .

WORKING WITH ECONOMIC OPERATORS

What is the issue?

Primary responsibility for product safety lies with the economic operators: the manufacturer, the importer and the retailer. Anyone involved in making a product available on the EU market has a legal obligation to guarantee the safety of the product. The stocktaking exercise showed that reputable businesses make significant efforts to ensure that their products are safe, and have stringent procedures to check and verify the quality and safety of their goods. However, RAPEX notifications show that there are still major problems with the safety of products being put onto the EU market, especially at the lower end of the market. Further efforts are necessary to ensure that companies are complying in full with the requirement to guarantee the safety of goods destined for the EU consumer. Priority areas for action in 2008 included:

  • A comprehensive evaluation of business safety measures in the toy supply chain, with results in early 2008.
  • Industry education and training on EU toy safety standards for Chinese partners and other players, as well as work to improve recall success rates.
  • A number of concrete measures to be agreed in 2008 involving manufacturers, retailers, importers - a "safety pact" to rebuild consumer confidence.

What progress has been made in the evaluation of business safety measures in the toy supply chain?

The Commission is carrying out a project to evaluate the safety measures put in place by businesses in the toy supply chain. This evaluation includes the participation of the toy industry, consumer organisations, Member States and standardisation and test institute experts. The evaluation is currently ongoing and the aim is to present the final results by the end of May. Nevertheless, preliminary conclusions indicate that one of the main problems is smaller players in the supply chain, who are less well-equipped to deal with safety issues, due to a lack of dedicated personnel, weak quality management systems and poor supplier control.

Smaller importers too seem less concerned about safety and struggle with issues such as the classification of toys and age grading. It is clear that competitive pressure on international markets push companies to try to limit costs linked to safety obligations, but the Commission is working with both business and national authorities to ensure this is does not compromise the level of product safety in the EU. In the final report of the evaluation, recommendations will be made to address these problem areas.

What has been the progress so far regarding education and training for Chinese industry?

The results of the evaluation project outlined above will be used to provide concrete input into the type of training that Chinese industry requires to improve its performance on product safety. In June 2008, the Commission will organise a seminar in China to inform the Chinese government and industry about the new Toy Safety proposal, ongoing standardisation efforts (e.g. proposal on magnetic toys) and other related developments.

What is aim of the Safety Pact with industry? Who will sign up and when?

The Safety Pact will be a voluntary agreement with the toy sector to boost product safety by following certain guidelines. These will include

  • Sharing expertise: in particular participating in the Commission’s evaluation of business safety measures in the toy supply chain with a view to investigating ways in which safety measures can be enhanced and continued cooperation regarding the implementation of such improvements;
  • Providing education and training: in particular in the context of the Roadmap for Safer Toys, providing education and training on EU toy safety rules and standards so that there is a clear understanding of what is required to ensure that toys are safe and fully compliant;
  • Seeking global solutions: in particular working closely with its counterparts in the United States and China to look at ways in which the industry can cooperate on testing requirements;
  • Cooperation with national authorities: working together to ensure that dangerous goods, and in particular counterfeit goods, can be identified and intercepted in time to ensure a high level of consumer safety.

The practical effects of this agreement will be stronger engagement of the toy industry in the Commission's efforts to improve toy safety and a subsequent lowering of the number of unsafe toys coming to the European market.

WORKING WITH MEMBER STATES

What is the issue?

The stocktaking showed that Member State surveillance authorities have generally been vigilant and accompanied positively and effectively the 'voluntary' recalls in 2007. Priority areas for action in 2008 included:

  • Developing appropriate indicators on national surveillance capacity as a basis for further discussion.
  • Developing best practice and sharing experience on market surveillance.
  • Enhancing co-operation between customs and market surveillance authorities;
  • Developing, together with Member States and international partners, practical solutions on traceability in the product supply chain.

How has the work on building up the capacity of surveillance authorities moved forwards?

The Commission Communication on the single market review concluded that the market has to be more responsive to the expectations and concerns of citizens and more able to adjust to the challenges of globalisation. In this context, the first Consumer Market Watch, presented to the Member States at the 2008 Spring Council, is intended to be the tool for monitoring and assessing single market's performance from the perspective of consumers. Product safety has been chosen as one of the main indicators for this scoreboard, focusing on the Member States' efforts in this area. See MEMO/08/70

Furthermore, the European Commission organises seminars for national authorities in charge of product safety (including customs authorities). These seminars are aimed at strengthening the knowledge of, and at building capacity for, the management of the whole product safety chain, including GPSD / RAPEX. In 2007, the European Commission organised a series of training sessions in Slovenia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Norway and Spain. New training sessions are planned for 2008, for instance in Bulgaria and Malta.

What progress has been made in developing best practice guidelines on surveillance with Member States?

Member States are responsible for the enforcement of EU product safety rules. To support national authorities’ market surveillance efforts, the Commission offers financial support to cross-border activities between Member States. This has resulted in a number of "joint actions" aimed at improving the cooperation between responsible authorities in ensuring product safety. Examples of areas where successful joint actions have been taken are on suffocation accidents, playground equipment, cord extension sets, lighting chains and lighters. The Commission also financially supports the exchange of officials between market surveillance authorities in the different Member States. The 2007 programme saw 16 exchanges, which have helped to share best practices and facilitate mutual understanding between different authorities.

What has been done to further develop the co-operation between customs and market surveillance authorities in the EU?

In addition to the exchange programmes mentioned above, the Commission has started to exchange information between the customs risk information system (RIF) and the food and product safety alert systems (RASFF+RAPEX). This coordination of the EU systems allows Member States to better target their surveillance activities. Furthermore, an important seminar took place in Austria in the beginning April 2008 to strengthen contacts and improve cooperation between customs and market surveillance authorities and to see how the current collaboration can be further improved.

Traceability emerged as a key issue in the product safety review. What is the Commission doing to improve traceability?

The New Approach Package (see MEMO/08/100), recently adopted by the European Parliament and awaiting formal adoption by the Council in June, specifically addresses the issue of traceability. It strengthens the requirements for economic operators, whereby they have to be able to identify who they bought any product from and to whom they have supplied it, thus creating a "one step forward-one step back" traceability system throughout the product chain.

Moreover, economic operators are obliged to ensure their products bear a type, batch or serial number, their registered trade name or trade mark, and the address at which they can be contacted.

WORKING WITH INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS

CHINA

What is the issue?

Although considerable efforts have been made by the Chinese authorities to address the issue of product safety and to ensure that their exports do not pose any risks to consumers, there is still a lot more work to be done. China still accounts for the majority of notifications in the RAPEX system, with over 50% of all notified dangerous products coming from China. Moreover, EU consumer confidence in Chinese goods has fallen dramatically as a result of the 2007 toy recalls, and much work will need to be done if China is to regain the trust of European citizens in its products.

What concrete measures is China taking to improve product safety and what is the Commission's assessment of progress?

In response to the series of recalls in the summer of 2007, AQSIQ has made a significant effort to strengthen controls on the product supply chain, particularly for toys. Within a relatively short period, a large number of the export licensed manufacturers (3540) have been audited and forced to improve their safety control systems. In some cases (701 cases) companies lost their export license as a result of their poor safety standards. AQSIQ will continue this strengthened supervision in 2008.

In November 2007 the Commission agreed on a “list of deliverables” in the field of product safety with AQSIQ, which included, amongst other things:

  • Strengthening export safety and quality controls on products from China, in particular for frequently notified products, such as toys, lights, electric plugs and extension cords;
  • Promoting awareness of product safety requirements and obligations amongst Chinese operators (manufacturers, exporters, distributors etc).

The Joint Statement, issued at the 10th China-EU Summit in Beijing on 28 November 2007, shows the strong emphasis that the EU put on improving product safety. It also underlines the clear will, on both sides, to continue the existing constructive relations, to commit to a regular exchange of information, and to work towards measurable improvements in product safety in order to allow a prosperous and harmonious trade relationship.

Overall, the Commission feels that there is genuine progress being made in China in the field of product safety and the Commission will seek to ensure that this effort is maintained. The full impact of tighter safety measures and controls should become more apparent with time, so long as product safety is kept as an uncompromised priority in China.

What is known of the Chinese domestic alert system?

The Chinese authorities (AQSIQ) are making great efforts to construct a national rapid alert system, interlinked with the RAPEX-China system, so as to allow a quicker and more effective response to dangerous product notifications. Where possible, the Commission is providing technical support to the Chinese authorities in the establishment of this system, with the aim of getting it up and running as soon as possible.

What support has the EU provided to China?

The EU has kept in close contact with the Chinese authorities to provide any support possible when it comes to improving product safety. For example, the Commission has encouraged the participation of Chinese experts in traineeship programmes, both in the Commission and in Member States. Education on European product safety rules and their implementation is an effective way of promoting product safety and one that is likely to yield the most long-lasting results. The EU-China Trade Project will carry out a study on the product safety control mechanisms in place in China. The Memorandum of Understanding between the Commission and AQSIQ (see IP/06/46) will be extended before the end of 2008 and will include ways further strengthen the cooperation mechanism between both sides, based on the experiences over the last three years.

What further steps will be taken in 2008 to improve EU-China cooperation on product safety?

EU-China High-Level Economic and Trade Mechanism

A high level EU-China meeting will take place in Beijing at the end of April where product safety will again be a major topic for discussion.

Commissioner to visit China

Commissioner Kuneva intends to re-visit China in June 2008 to push forward the product safety co-operation agenda with Chinese authorities. She will also present the results of the toy supply chain evaluation project and initiate a discussion on the extension of the Memorandum of Understanding between DG SANCO and AQSIQ.

Product Safety Week

In November 2008, the Commission will organise the International Product Safety Week with a series of events and seminars for stakeholders and product safety specialists. On this occasion, an EU-US-China meeting will be organised in Brussels to boost trilateral co-operation in this field.

USA

What has the Commission done to move forward cooperation on import safety controls with the US Administration? What are the next steps in EU-US cooperation?

Europe and the United States face many similar challenges regarding product safety. As many products are common to both markets, a strong transatlantic relationship in this area is of key importance in ensuring consumer safety on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sharing of information with the USA on product safety, standards and regulatory measures is a confirmed objective for Europe. In this context, the Commission looks forward to developments in the US Congress which would enable the Consumer Product Safety Commission (US federal authority in charge of product safety) to engage in such exchanges.

At the First Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) held in Washington on 9 November 2007, all sides stated the clear intention of enhancing cooperation on import safety. A draft report on how to improve information exchange is currently being prepared for the EU-US High-level Regulatory Cooperation Forum (HLRCF) on 25 April 2008 and the next TEC meeting in May 2008.

In September 2008 there will be a joint outreach visit to China by high level representatives of the EU and US product safety authorities. This will be an opportunity for the EU and USA to present a united front when discussing consumer protection priorities with the Chinese authorities.


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