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China and product safety: frequently asked questions

19 July 2007
by eub2 -- last modified 19 July 2007

EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva is making a vist to the People's Republic of China on 21-27 July 2007.


Commissioner Kuneva's first official visit outside the EU since taking office in January 2007 sends a strong signal about the importance the Commissioner attaches to building the partnership with China on a range of issues related to product safety, including enforcement, rapid alert systems and effective market surveillance.

What are the main messages that the Commission will convey to Chinese authorities on the occasion of the visit of Commissioner Kuneva?

The Commissioner will convey two key messages:

  • The EU cannot and will not compromise on European values, and in particular on consumer safety.
  • Trust in the market is essential. It is in both China and the European Union's interest to build a strong co-operation and to expand the EU-China product safety monitoring system. We want to work in partnership with the Chinese Authorities to build confidence in the market

Is it true that 50% of defective products sold across Europe come from China? And that almost 25% are toys?

According to the latest issue of the RAPEX report (RAPEX is the European Commission's Rapid Alert System for dangerous consumer products), in 2006 most notifications concerned the following categories of products, which accounted for almost 75 % of all notified products

  • 1. toys (221 notifications, 24%),
  • 2. electrical appliances (174 notifications, 19%),
  • 3. motor vehicles (126 notifications, 14%),
  • 4. lighting equipment (98 notifications, 11%),
  • 5. cosmetics (48 notifications, 5%).

Detailed information on the EU RAPEX system, and the 2006 RAPEX Annual Report

Toys, electrical appliances and motor vehicles alone accounted for more than half of the notifications in 2006. The People's Republic of China was the country of origin for notified products in almost half of all cases (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%). This high percentage is a limiting factor in assessing the presence of dangerous products in the EU. However, a slight improvement can be noted compared to the previous year when 20% of notifications concerned products of unknown origin.

But the RAPEX-figures do not fully reflect the level of non-compliance with safety requirements since the degree of control varies between Member States and is based on sample checks. It is however clear from the available figures that Chinese products and, in particular, Chinese toys are over-represented among dangerous products found on the market. Improvements in the safety of Chinese products will therefore have an important effect.

Are figures of defective products coming from the People's Republic of China increasing?

First of all, we are not talking here about 48% of all imported goods from China. RAPEX figures only refer to notified products generating an alert in the EU early warning system. And secondly, while the overall trade flow between the EU and China has greatly increased over the 2003-2006 period, the overall number of RAPEX notifications of Chinese origin has remained stable, even going down to 46% in the first six months of 2007.

Who is responsible for testing products imported in the EU?

First and foremost, economic operators – namely, manufacturers or their commercial representatives in the EU. Of course Member State authorities carry out sample testing in their own laboratories, and that is one way for a product to end up on the RAPEX system. Sometimes, RAPEX alerts are triggered by producers themselves. Voluntary measures notified by producers account for an increasing share of overall RAPEX notifications.

Aren't European safety standards a trade defence mechanism in disguise?

No. Their only objective is to protect European consumers. Products imported to the EU from all over the world have to respect strict European standards, no matter where they come from.

The EU is an open market that welcomes imports including Chinese products. In case of goods, China is the EU's No 1 import partner and the EU is China's No 1 trading partner. In 2006, China exported products with a value of EUR 191 billion into the EU, and the growth rate of the exports is increasing further (+25.7% in the first quarter of 2007). In the same year, China's trade surplus with the EU in goods was in excess of EUR 128 billion, and it is still growing.

Does the US have a similar rapid alert system, and are you in touch with them?

Yes, they have a comparable system and we co-operate and exchange information on a regular basis. However, it should not be forgotten that the US is a single country with a single consumer safety organisation, and therefore their system is much more integrated than ours.

Aren't RAPEX statistics and number of notifications concerning Chinese products a normal consequence of the trade flow with China?

It is clear that the high level of imports of Chinese products to the EU is a contributing factor for the high presence of Chinese products in the RAPEX statistics.

However, the statistics indicate that in total around half of the notifications in 2006 concern products of Chinese origin. At the same time about 80% of RAPEX notifications on toys concern products of Chinese origin. It is, therefore, clear from these figures that Chinese products, and in particular, toys are overrepresented in the RAPEX statistics. As a result, The Commission is working in partnership with the Chinese authorities to improve the safety of Chinese products. In addition, increasing awareness of the Chinese manufacturers and traders wishing to import products to Europe of the safety requirements is essential.

What can the Commission do about dangerous goods "made in China"?

There are three priority action areas:

  1. co-operating with the Chinese government, agreeing on common standards, and training Chinese market inspectors to enforce these safety standards,
  2. educating Chinese manufacturers about safety requirements and making our safety standards easily accessible,
  3. identifying as precisely as possible Chinese manufacturers of dangerous consumer products found on the European market and passing on this information to Chinese authorities for follow-up action (via the EU –RAPEX China system)

The Commission also co-operates with the United States' consumer protection authorities with whom it has identical concerns regarding Chinese products.

What does the EU-China Memorandum of Understanding call for?

In January 2006, the Commission and the Chinese government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the objective of establishing better communication and collaboration on consumer product safety and to support Chinese authorities in their efforts to ensure product safety, in particular for consumer products exported to the EU. The Memorandum puts in place a number of practical measures, including joint meetings, exchanges of information and follow-up on emerging safety issues. One measure taken in May 2006 is that RAPEX information concerning products of Chinese origin has been made available on a read-only basis to the Chinese government, thereby allowing immediate follow-up by the Chinese Authorities on notifications regarding unsafe products.

Will the Commission propose to Chinese authorities to start negotiations for a new Memorandum of Understanding?

The Commission is considering the need to expand the existing agreement and adapt it to newly emerging situations, but before that, we must insist with our Chinese counterparts that it is essential to properly and thoroughly implement existing commitments and strengthen areas of co-operation that need to be reinforced.

What is the "Roadmap for safer toys"?

In addition to the general framework provided by the Memorandum of Understanding, a specific Roadmap for safer toys was signed in September 2006. This agreement aims at ensuring that toys exported from China to the EU are safe and outlines a strategy for improving the safety of toys manufactured in China. The Roadmap, supported by both the European and Chinese toy manufacturers' associations, includes practical measures regarding training and technical assistance, exchanges of RAPEX information between the EU and the Chinese authorities, and tracing, feedback and follow-up mechanisms for dangerous products. It also contains a commitment from the Chinese authorities to strengthen inspection and supervision of toys exported to Europe.

Source: European Commission

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