Two New Consumer Safety Laws Proposed by European Commission
12 January 2018
On 19 December 2017, the European Commission presented two proposals relating to consumer safety: the first proposal concerns mutual recognition of consumer safety rules by Member States, and the other concerns market surveillance and enforcement of safety rules, e.g., for imported goods.
Both proposed laws are relevant to Hong Kong traders of consumer goods. As part of the European Commission’s initiatives to enhance its ongoing single market strategy, the package aims to make it easier for companies to uniformly sell their products EU-wide while at the same time clamping down on unsafe products. The proposals aim to build consumer trust with a high level of protection from safety hazards, pollution and environmental damage wherever the products come from.
Hong Kong traders may already be aware that certain common consumer goods, including shoes, jewellery, tableware and furniture, are not specifically regulated under EU rules. Member States may thus impose their own rules, but these cannot create barriers to trade within the internal market.
Under the principle of mutual recognition, which implements the free movement of goods, if a product is lawfully marketed in one Member Sate, then it can be sold in any other Member State without changes or adaptations, undue delays and costs – in theory. However, in practice businesses still face obstacles due to lack of information and cumbersome procedures.
This is where the Commission Proposal for a Regulation on the mutual recognition of goods lawfully marketed in another Member State comes into play. Its objective is to speed up procedures for businesses, which will know within months, rather than years, whether they are allowed to sell a certain product in a specific Member State. Its Annex provides a form for a mutual recognition declaration to demonstrate compliance with requirements in the home Member State.
In addition, Hong Kong readers will be well aware that for other products, e.g., chemicals and toys, EU legislation is among the strictest in the world. Yet it is reported that investigations have revealed many products on the market which do not comply with EU rules on safety.
This ranges from mislabelled products, missing product information, counterfeiting and piracy to actual safety risks to health or the environment. Recent European statistics on unsafe and non-compliant products show that 32% of toys, 58% of electronics, 47% of construction products, 34% of low voltage equipment, 58% of electromagnetic and radio equipment and 40% of personal protective equipment did not meet the requirements for safety or consumer information. Indeed, there are approximately 2000 dangerous product warnings per year through the rapid alert system known as RAPEX. Besides posing potential threats to consumer safety, health and the environment, it is believed that non-compliance with these rules places compliant businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
These are the motivations behind the Proposal for a Regulation laying down rules and procedures for compliance with and enforcement of Union harmonisation legislation on products. The future Regulation will be applicable to all products that are subject to EU harmonisation legislation such as toys, vehicles, energy-related products and cosmetics. A full list of EU harmonisation legislation can be found in the Annex to the proposal.
For businesses, it is important to note that the appointment of a contact person responsible for compliance information, which most manufacturers already have on a voluntary basis, will become mandatory. Such person will have to keep the declaration of conformity and technical documentation at the disposal of market surveillance authorities if required by EU harmonisation legislation applicable to the product, provide the market surveillance authority with all the information and documentation necessary to demonstrate the conformity of the product, and cooperate with the market surveillance authorities on any action taken to eliminate or mitigate risks posed by a product.
According to the proposal, the identity and contact details of the person responsible for compliance information with respect to the product shall be indicated on or identifiable from information indicated on the product, its packaging, the parcel or an accompanying document.
The proposed Regulation further aims to foster cooperation among national market surveillance authorities. It contains rules with regard to joint investigations, the coordination of controls, the sharing of evidence and results, and mutual assistance.
Both drafts need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Member States’ ministers. Once adopted, the Regulations will be directly applicable in the Member States without requiring transposition. They are scheduled to be applicable from 1 January 2020.