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Product safety – no compromises - 20/04/2009

EU keeps consumers safe with alert system for dangerous products.

We are all consumers. Every time we go to a shop to buy something or log onto the internet to place an order, EU legislation ensures that the products on offer are safe and produced under fair conditions.

To ensure product safety, the commission runs a rapid alert system (RAPEX) for all dangerous consumer products with the exception of food, pharmaceutical and medical devices. If a product is deemed dangerous, RAPEX quickly circulates information to 30 participating countries so that distribution can be stopped or limited.

The number of dangerous products withdrawn from the market rose by 16% in 2008 compared to the previous year. Toys, electrical appliances and motor vehicles together accounted for over half those items.

The percentage of detected, potentially dangerous products coming from China rose from 52% to 59% – the result of an increase in imports from China, better EU-China cooperation on product safety and heightened vigilance in EU countries where Chinese products are concerned.

The biggest challenge for RAPEX in 2009 will be to ensure that EU countries continue to invest in consumer rights at a time when money is tight due to the economic crisis.

In the meantime, more and more people are shopping online. Between 2006 and 2008, the percentage of shoppers buying at least one item on the internet increased from 27% to 33%. But linguistic, practical and trust issues mean that most are buying from companies based in their country of residence. Only 7% of online consumers currently buy from companies abroad.

To examine these internet age issues, the commission recently held a consumer summit focusing on trust in the digital market place. On the agenda were changes needed to increase cross-border trade: increasing consumer confidence in online payments and delivery, dealing with complaints, product guarantees, privacy issues and after-sales support.

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