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Questions and answers on the Rapid Alert System for non-food consumer products (RAPEX)

European Commission - MEMO/08/252   17/04/2008

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MEMO/08/252

Brussels, 17 April 2008

Questions and answers on the Rapid Alert System for non-food consumer products (RAPEX)

1. RAPID ALERT SYSTEM FOR DANGEROUS PRODUCTS (RAPEX)

What is RAPEX?

RAPEX (Community 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. The participating countries are all the European Union countries and the EEA countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

What is the legal basis for RAPEX?

The General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC (GPSD)[1] provides the legal framework for RAPEX. The RAPEX Guidelines complement the GPSD by defining the key aspects of the operation of the RAPEX system. The Guidelines were drawn up by the Commission in cooperation with the countries participating in the system. Although some specific consumer products (like toys, cosmetics, electrical appliances, personal protective equipment, machinery, motor vehicles, etc.) are covered by sector-specific Directives, the RAPEX requirements in the GPSD apply also to these products when the relevant Directives do not provide for a similar rapid information exchange system.

When is RAPEX used?

According to the GPSD, national authorities notify the Commission, via the RAPEX system, of measures taken to prevent or restrict the marketing or use of consumer products posing a serious risk to the health and safety of consumers. This obligation is laid down in Article 12 of the GPSD.

What type of measures can be taken?

Both measures ordered by national authorities and measures taken voluntarily by producers and distributors (50% of the total in 2007) are covered by RAPEX. The most common measures are 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 recall of a dangerous product from consumers.

What is covered by RAPEX?

RAPEX is devoted to 'consumer products' which can be used by professionals and consumers (for instance, a power drill, a lamp or a toy). The RAPEX system does not cover all consumer products however. For food and feed, a specific alert system (RASFF), similar to RAPEX, is in place. Specific systems are in place also for medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

What is considered to be a "serious risk"?

A 'serious risk' is defined by the GPSD as one which requires rapid intervention by public authorities and includes risks of which the effects are not immediate. Additionally, the RAPEX system allows for the exchange of information about measures taken by national authorities in relation to products that present a moderate risk for consumers.

What are the role and obligations of national authorities?

National authorities ensure that businesses respect their obligation to place only safe products on the market. To this end, they must designate market surveillance authorities with necessary powers to take measures to prevent or restrict the marketing or use of dangerous products. Competent national authorities must take appropriate measures if they find dangerous consumer products on the market. Each country participating in the RAPEX system nominates a single national RAPEX Contact Point which submits to the Commission detailed information about dangerous products found on its own market.

The information received and validated by the Commission is rapidly circulated to the national Contact Points in all countries participating in the system. These then ensure that their respective national authorities check whether the product in question is present on their market and take appropriate action. The results of these market surveillance activities, including additional information relevant for other national authorities, are then reported back to the Commission through the RAPEX system.

What are the role and obligations of producers and distributors?

Producers and distributors have to ensure that only safe products are put 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. This information is then conveyed via the RAPEX system to the Commission and other countries participating in the RAPEX system if the product poses a serious risk.

Where can I find updated RAPEX information on-line?

The Commission publishes weekly overviews of RAPEX notifications on products posing a serious risk to consumers on its RAPEX internet page. These overviews provide information on the notified product, the nature of the risk it poses and the measures that were taken to prevent these risks. For more information, please visit: www.ec.europa.eu/rapex .

How can I find specific information on the notifications submitted by a particular Member State?

There is a search database on the RAPEX home-page, where a keyword can be entered and all related notifications will be listed. For example, if "Germany" is put in as the keyword, all notifications submitted by the German authorities since 2005 will be shown. Equally, a particular product (e.g. vehicle) or third country name can be put into the search tool to find information on the related number of notifications. See: www.ec.europa.eu/rapex .

2. RAPEX REPORT 2007

How many dangerous products were notified in 2007 through the RAPEX system?

In 2007, a total of 1605 notifications were submitted thought the RAPEX system by Member States and EFTA/EEA countries. This constitutes 53% more notifications than in 2006 (1051 notifications). Of these, 1355 notifications concerned products which posed a serious risk to consumers.

Which EU countries notified most cases?

The following Member States accounted for 44% of all RAPEX notifications last year:

  • Germany (163 notifications, approx. 12%),
  • Greece (115 notifications, approx. 8%),
  • Slovakia (114 notifications, approx. 8%),
  • Hungary (109 notifications, approx. 8%),
  • Spain (108 notifications, approx. 8%).

In 2007, most Member States increased their activity in the RAPEX system. The gap between the countries with the highest number of notifications and those with the lowest number decreased compared to previous years. This is reflected in the fact that the total share of the five most frequently notifying countries decreased from 61% in 2006 to 44% in 2007.

Which products were most often notified?

The most frequently notified products in 2007 were:

  • toys (417 notifications, approx. 31%),
  • motor vehicles (197 notifications, approx. 15%),
  • electrical appliances (156 notifications, approx. 12%),
  • lighting equipment (84 notifications, approx. 6%),
  • cosmetics (81 notifications, approx. 6%).

More than 1 in 3 notified products was either a toy or a childcare article, confirming that child safety is a top-ranking priority for market surveillance authorities.

What are the main risks detected through the RAPEX system?

The most often notified risks categories, which accounted for 79% of all alerts, were:

  • injuries (376 notifications, approx. 23%),
  • choking (251 notifications, approx. 15%),
  • electric shock (246 notifications, approx.15%),
  • fire (216 notifications, approx. 13%),
  • chemical (212 notifications, approx.13%).

What measures did the national authorities take in response to the dangerous goods that they found?

When reporting through the RAPEX system, Member States must give details of the restrictive measures which they ordered in response to the identified risk ('compulsory measures'), as well as any preventive actions taken by economic operators on their own initiative ('voluntary measures'). Of the 1355 notifications for products posing a serious risk, 643 concerned compulsory measures ordered by the national authorities (47%), 669 were where economic operators took 'voluntary measures' (50%), while in 43 cases, compulsory measures were complemented by corrective actions by economic operators (3%).

Where did the largest amount of dangerous products come from in 2007?

China (including Hong Kong) was indicated as a country of origin for more than half (52% / 700 notifications) of notified products. Other third countries involved in notifications were: Japan (33 notifications, 2%) and the USA (31 notifications, 2%).

Products of European origin accounted for 303 notifications (22%), including 79 products of German origin (6%), 48 products of Italian origin (4%), 30 products of Polish origin (2%) and 26 products of French origin (2%). These fairly high numbers show that the national enforcement authorities should focus their activities not only on products coming from third countries but also closely monitor the safety of consumer goods manufactured in the EU. It also shows that further attention needs to be given to the education of the European manufacturers and distributors on the safety requirements applying to consumer products.

Why have notifications for dangerous goods increased every year?

The increase in the number of notifications transmitted through the RAPEX system does not mean that there are more dangerous goods on the European market or that the European market surveillance system is working less effectively. On the contrary, these results can be ascribed to an increased effectiveness on the part of product safety enforcers, better awareness amongst operators of their responsibilities with regard to consumer protection (including an obligation to notify dangerous products to the national authorities), better functioning of the RAPEX network, enhanced cooperation with third countries, and EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007.

What does it show when a country makes a lot of notifications – is it that there are more dangerous products on that particular market?

The number of notifications made by a particular Member State cannot be directly linked to the level of safety of the products on its market. There are many reasons why some Member States may have more notifications than others: very effective surveillance mechanisms, big market, large import volumes etc. In general, it follows that the European countries which have the biggest markets and the greatest number of imported goods, and which also have the highest number of inspectors, find more dangerous goods and thus notify through RAPEX more often than smaller countries.

3. RAPEX-CHINA: IMPROVING CONTROLS ON CHINESE PRODUCTS

The Commission said last autumn that co-operation with China was improving. Is China truly making efforts and why does this not show in the RAPEX figures?

The number of notifications on products of Chinese origin submitted through the RAPEX system in 2007 increased by 3 percentage points compared to 2006 (49% in 2006, 52% in 2007). However, it does not necessarily mean that there were a greater number of dangerous Chinese goods on the European market in 2007.

One explanation for this rise is the fact that the number of products of unknown origin notified through RAPEX significantly decreased in 2007 compared to previous years (20% in 2005, 17% in 2006 and 13% in 2007). Therefore, certain products which had been notified in previous years as being of unknown origin were notified in 2007 as being of the Chinese origin.

There are positive outcomes emerging from the great efforts being made by the Chinese and EU authorities to improve the safety of Chinese products reaching the EU market. For example, the Chinese authorities investigated 357 RAPEX notifications last year and took appropriate follow-up measures.

What is the 'RAPEX-CHINA' application?

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

One important measure in this context is that RAPEX information on products of Chinese origin is now made available to AQSIQ through the on-line 'RAPEX-CHINA' application. This allows the Chinese authorities to follow up directly on notifications regarding unsafe products coming from their territory and identify areas where the safety standards are weaker.

Does the Commission get feedback on how the Chinese authorities follow up on the RAPEX-China information?

As part of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding, AQSIQ agreed to provide the Commission with information on the follow up actions carried out as a result of RAPEX-China information. At the beginning of 2007, it was decided that a report would be submitted to the Commission every 3 months. The information provided in this report allows the Commission to monitor and analyse the follow-up market surveillance activities carried out by the Chinese authorities on their territory, and allows both parties to identify and address weak points in their cooperation systems.

When was the last RAPEX China quarterly report received, and what were the main findings?

The most recent RAPEX-China report was provided to the Commission in January 2007, and covers the AQSIQ investigations from September to November 2007. In that period, AQSIQ investigated a total of 89 RAPEX notifications. In 54 of these cases, measures such as export bans, corrective actions and stronger supervision, were enacted to prevent the export of dangerous goods to the EU.

The next RAPEX China report is due in mid April 2008. Brief analyses of the quarterly reports are made available through at: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/safety/rapex/index_en.htm.

For more information on China and product safety, see MEMO/08/251 on the EU's stocktaking exercise.


([1]) OJ L 11, 15.1.2002, p. 4.


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