Monday

20th Sep 2021

Opinion

EU a 'Wild West' for China's unsafe toys, gadgets and clothes

  • Product safety might seem like a negligible problem given the overarching challenges EU decision-makers face - but the safety of products directly affects the health and safety of tens of thousands of shoppers (Photo: Peppercorn Pixie)

The EU has forged the concept known as 'open strategic autonomy' to foster the EU's sovereignty and assertiveness in its trade between both rivals and partners.

But with respect to China, the EU's path is everything but clear: the sudden finalisation of the EU-China investment agreement, followed by its placing in a deep freezer months after its finalisation following Chinese sanctions on parliamentarians, executives and NGOs in the EU, indicates that the EU is equally nervous about an emerging autocratic regime that has learned from the best when it comes to wielding military and economic power to ensure its influence in the world.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Made in China. A USB port melts under testing by the International Consumer Research & Testing institute. (Photo: ICRT/Which?)

Last month, EUobserver reported about Belgian politicians raising concerns about the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba opening its European hub in Liège, Belgium.

And the G7 Carbis Bay Summit Communiqué only superficially hides that China is the new enemy number one.

In this big power play over global influence and dominance of economies and values, one aspect is often being overlooked which has direct consequences for thousands of EU (and US) citizens every day.

More quietly than in the big power play, China has already imposed its 'wild west' approach on our daily lives: more than 50 percent of the products listed as dangerous in 2020 in the EU's safety notification system came from China, mostly toys, electrical appliances and clothing.

Interestingly, US consumer organisations report similar problems with unsafe products on the US market coming from China.

Therefore, a joint EU-US approach on product safety towards China could be a "low-hanging fruit" in a renewed transatlantic agenda.

And this is not only a consumer problem: European manufacturers complain about unfair competition due to cheap and dangerous products. In 2019, Toy Industries Europe bought toys from four of the largest European marketplaces.

Sharp edges, suffocation, choking, burns, chemicals

All goods were directly shipped from China and 76 percent of 134 toys tested were found to be illegal (due to sharp edges or the risk of suffocation, chocking or strangulation, the risk of burns or high chemical contents).

Given the rise of e-commerce and global online shopping in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission and EU member states must act now in order to actively tackle the problem of unsafe products pouring into the European single market from China specifically.

Product safety might seem like a negligible problem given the overarching challenges EU decision-makers, companies or human rights activists are facing every day. But the safety of products is a challenge that directly affects the health and safety of tens of thousands of people every day.

In 2019 (well before Covid-19), the freight airport of Liège in Belgium counted roughly one million direct imports (most of them from China) – every day.

And this is only one of the ten largest freight airports in the EU.

Accordingly, the safety of products entering the EU single market from China should not only be left to legislators trying to reform the EU's decades old product safety legislation.

It should also find its place in the overarching China strategy of the EU's external and trade policies. It should be a topic in political and diplomatic exchanges at all levels.

And the European Commission and member states should demand more effective action from Chinese authorities to tackle these problems.

This does not mean that tightening due diligence obligations for companies when it comes to human-rights violations would not be necessary. On the contrary, a strengthened human rights regime is clearly relevant for consumers as they are not able to detect whether the products they buy have been produced with forced labour or led to environmental pollution.

Consumers want to buy goods that are safe to use and produced in a sustainable and ethical manner – for both aspects they have to trust the rules governing the import of products into the EU.

It's up to all policy-makers to finally address these issues more prominently in the EU's external exchanges, together with our transatlantic partners.

This is how diplomacy delivers to citizens.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

China reduced toxic toys exports, says EU

Fewer toxic toys and skin-irritating textiles have been imported on the European market, thanks to a clamp down from Chinese authorities, the EU commission said on Thursday.

Fast fashion vs. climate - how 'repair & resell' is the new model

With the drive for lower prices and emergence of more and more 'fast-fashion' brands, durability is inevitably compromised. However, through new regulation, selling durable products shall no longer be a design option - it will be a legal requirement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Netherlands against more rights for rejected asylum-seekers
  2. EU fishing fleet gets up to €1.5bn tax break, despite emissions
  3. Loophole: Italy's vaccinated migrants can't get Covid pass
  4. UN annual meeting plus Poland in focus This WEEK
  5. No EU strategic autonomy without Libyan stability
  6. MEPs suspect Gazprom manipulating gas price
  7. Fast fashion vs. climate - how 'repair & resell' is the new model
  8. Right of reply: Erik Bergkvist, S&D MEP and shadow rapporteur

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us