Traceability of goods must improve, says EU

13.02.13 @ 18:57

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - Any non-food product sold in the EU must be traceable and labelled with the name and address of its manufacturer.

  • Textiles accounted for 27 percent of all dangerous products alerts in 2011 (Photo: USDAgov)

The rules are part of a larger safety and market surveillance package put forward on Wednesday (13 February) by the European Commission.

“There will be set harmonised rules as regards country-of-origin and also the names and address of the manufacturer who can be contacted in case something goes wrong,” Tonio Borg, the Maltese European commissioner for health, told reporters in Brussels.

Speaking alongside commission vice-president of Antonio Tajani, Borg said national authorities are currently unable to trace the origin of around 10 percent of hazardous products that enter the EU’s annual €1 trillion consumer product market.

A pan-EU rapid alert system was set up in 2004 to notify member states of problem cases when a product poses a serious risk to health.

It was activated 1,556 times in 2011. Around 27 percent of the cases dealt with textiles followed by toys at 21 percent.

More than half of the health-risk products came from China.

China also topped the list when it comes to countries where authorities were unable to trace the product back to its original manufacturer. Documents to help trace the product are either lacking or the information given is inaccurate. Sometimes, the Chinese company in question denies any involvement.

The Brussels-executive proposal aims to put an end to the uncertainty, said Tajani.

The Italian industry commissioner noted the new rules would apply to “basically anyone who is involved in the production chain.”

The proposals are backed by the pan-European consumer organisation BEUC.

“National measures alone are not coping with the scale of risk,” said BEUC’s general director Monique Goyens.

Better national monitoring methods, improved product traceability and a mandate to allow the EU to pass safety rules more quickly were welcomed by the organisation.

Made-in labels required for all

Other novelties include a ‘made-in’ label that extends to companies inside the EU. EU-based companies can either label their product as made in the EU or narrow it down to a member state.

The proposals apply to both harmonised and non-harmonised products where traceability and labelling rules are applied differently. This will no longer be the case.

For instance, children’s toys are currently harmonised throughout the EU. But other products purpose-built for children like beds are not.

The new proposals would have the same rule for both harmonised and non-harmonised products.

There are limitations.

A shoe put together in Italy may have its laces, soles, or other parts sourced in China. But because it is assembled in Italy, the shoe will be labelled either as made in the EU or in Italy.

Tajani said the country of origin label depends on the “most important step in the chain” of the product. He noted where it is assembled as the most important step.

“If a product comes from three different countries, and the product is assembled in say Malta then you would put made in Europe or made in Malta,” said Tajani.

If parts of the product are manufactured outside Europe, then the part must respect existing customs codes outlined by the World Trade Organisation, said the trade commissioner.

This is not always the case.

Last April, the commission noted that some of the products that enter the EU market are assembled by children.

"Enterprises operating in third countries are obliged to respect existing legal requirements," said the commission in a response to an MEP on the issue of child labour and EU products.

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