Europe and the United States face many similar challenges concerning the safety of products. As many products are common to both markets, a strong transatlantic relationship in this area is of key importance. Both sides agree that the exchange of certain information and best practices is vital to keep consumers on both sides of the Atlantic safe from dangerous products. Therefore, a close and frequent dialogue has been established between European and US regulators.
In February 2005, under the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP), DG SANCO and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) agreed a set of
Guidelines to strengthen transatlantic cooperation
in product safety. These guidelines encompass the regular exchange of (non-confidential) information and establish a series of joint initiatives to help safeguard consumers’ health and safety.
Transatlantic Economic Council and the EU-U.S. High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum
The Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) is a political body to oversee and accelerate government-to-government cooperation with the
aim of advancing economic integration between the European Union and the United States of America.
The first meeting of the TEC was held on 9 November 2007 in Washington D.C., and consumer product safety was included in the agenda.
Press release (08/11/2007)
The second meeting of the TEC was held in Brussels on 13 May 2008.
The EU-U.S. High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum submitted the following three documents to the TEC:
Report on Safety
Report on Impact analysis
TEC's progress report, 10 June 2008
Product/import safety is a recurring topic in the agendas of subsequent meetings of these fora.
Council gives the European Commission a mandate to negotiate agreement with the United States of America on consumer product safety
The European Commission has proposed to open negotiations between the European Community and the United States of America for an agreement on cooperation and information exchange in the area of consumer product safety. On 10 November 2009 the Council has given the Commission an authorisation to negotiate. Meglena Kuneva, European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, said: “The European Commission wants to ensure that products on the European market are safe for consumers. Growing international trade and global product supply chains mean that ensuring a high level of consumer product safety is a global concern. As many products are marketed on both sides of the Atlantic, an agreement on cooperation and information exchange between the European Community and the United States of America would contribute to ensure safer consumer markets." By entering into negotiations with the United States of America the Commission aims to:
- establish regular dialogue and co-operation on issues of common interest and formalise the already ongoing informal dialogue with the US Authorities in the product safety area;
- ensure, via cooperation and exchange of information, better protection for consumers both in the European Union and the United States of America.
The European Commission will start negotiations with the US Authorities as soon as possible and hopes to conclude an agreement in the year 2010.
Over the past decade, China has become one of the biggest exporters of consumer products globally and is rightly referred to as the 'world's workshop'. For example, around 85% of all toys on the European market come from China. The sheer volume of Chinese exports to the EU warrants a close relationship in the area of product safety.
Memorandum of Understanding
Formal recognition of this important relationship came in early 2006 with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Directorate General for Health and Consumers of the European Commission (DG SANCO) and the Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine from the People’s Republic of China (AQSIQ). This MoU established a framework for better communication and collaboration between EU and Chinese authorities on general product safety and sought to support 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 problems identified. This includes cooperation on tests and exchanges of information on scientific, technical and regulatory matters and emerging issues. One tangible measure under the MoU is that RAPEX (the Rapid Alert System for non-food consumer products) information concerning products of Chinese origin has been made available to AQSIQ (on a read-only basis), thereby allowing China to directly follow up notifications regarding unsafe products. This is essential as more than half of the dangerous consumer products detected in the EU are imported from China. This is partly due to the fact that over the last decade China has become one of the EU's leading trading partners.
Upgraded Memorandum of Understanding
In November 2008 both partners decided to sign an upgraded Memorandum showing a renewed political commitment to their cooperation in the area of consumer product safety. The MoU has been strengthened and updated in view of the significant progress made over the last three years in the cooperation with China.
The updated MoU includes clearer reference to the RAPEX-China system and the roles in this respect of both sides, provides for more opportunities to cooperate, for example by undertaking joint enforcement actions, mentions the established working groups between the EC and AQSIQ and clarifies the confidentiality understanding regarding the exchange of information. Moreover, it foresees a role to the Member States and stakeholders in the cooperation framework.
Signature of a revised Memorandum of Understanding strengthening bilateral co-operation between the EU and China to enforce product safety standards and strengthen cooperation and exchange of information on food safety: Wei Chuanzhong, Chinese Vice-Minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China (AQSIQ), on the left, and Meglena Kuneva, EU Consumer Commissioner.
Joint Statement on the extension of the Memorandum of Understanding on administrative co-operation arrangement between DG SANCO and AQSIQ Updated 17-11-2008
Consolidated Memorandum of Understanding Updated 24-11-2008
Another upgrade took place in October 2010 during the Shanghai World Expo, reflecting the reattribution of responsibilities in the European Commission concerning medical devices and cosmetics. As a result, both partners have decided that the existing Working Groups on Medical Devices and Cosmetics under the DG ENTR-AQSIQ Consultation Mechanism on Industrial Products and WTO/TBT will be continued under the Memorandum of Understanding on Administrative Co-operation Arrangements between DG SANCO and AQSIQ.
Joint Statement on the extension of the Memorandum of Understanding on Administrative Co-operation Arrangements between DG SANCO and AQSIQ
Roadmap for Safer Toys
Furthermore, in September 2006 the European Commission, represented by DG SANCO and the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR) agreed with AQSIQ on a Roadmap for safer toys. The Roadmap aims to ensure that toys exported from China to the EU are safe and outlines a strategy for improving their safety, focusing on training and technical assistance, the exchange of RAPEX information between EU and Chinese authorities, and tracing, feedback and follow-up mechanisms for dangerous products. The Roadmap also puts in place a framework, supported by both the European and Chinese toy manufacturers' associations, for continuous exchanges of information on unsafe toy and contains a commitment from AQSIQ to tighten-up the inspection and monitoring of toys exported to Europe. Please see the Roadmap for safer toys for more information.
The "RAPEX-CHINA" system
Almost 60% of notifications in the EU's RAPEX rapid alert system concern products from Chinese origin. Therefore, DG SANCO started providing AQSIQ with specific information on consumer products originating from China that have been identified as dangerous and consequently banned or withdrawn from the European market by EU Member States' authorities and notified to the European Commission via RAPEX. This so-called "RAPEX-CHINA" system facilitates regular and rapid transmission of data between the EU and China and AQSIQ has taken it upon itself to investigate all the notifications it receives and, when necessary, adopts measures which prevent or restrict further export of the specific hazardous products to the EU.
In the frame of the 17th Japan-EU Summit, held on 23 April 2008 in Tokyo, Japan, Europe and Japan agreed to strengthen their cooperation at
international and bilateral levels in the area of product safety. In a joint statement it was agreed, in particular, to enhance the exchange of information on
non-food product safety policies. More specifically it was agreed to share (publicly available) information on recent major recalls and withdrawals from the
market of dangerous non-food products, including those imported from the third countries, triggered by accidents or by market surveillance and monitoring activities
in Japan and the EU.
The Commission is also in dialogue with many other countries and regional organisations, which are not specifically mentioned here.