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RAPEX Removes Dangerous Products from European Market but Significant Concerns Remain over Imports

Alerts by RAPEX mainly concern toys, clothing, fashion items, electronic appliances and cosmetics. Risks to which consumers are vulnerable, that are routinely detected by RAPEX, are divided into different categories, the most common being chemical hazards. For example, the system provided for the withdrawal from the market of ‘slime’, a coloured elastic paste which if ingested may harm children’s health and reproductive systems. Digital threats were also taken into account, which is the reason why children’s digital watches and dolls with digital security loopholes were removed from the market.

The products with the highest amounts of alerts identified in 2018 were: (i) toy products with 709 alerts (31%); (ii) clothing, textiles and fashion items with 236 alerts (10%); (iii) electronic appliances and equipment with 188 alerts (8%); and (iv) cosmetics with 150 alerts (7%). Motor vehicles were also among the highest number of dangerous products notified on RAPEX in 2018.

The most frequently notified risk categories were: (i) chemical hazards with 637 alerts (25%); (ii) injuries with 635 alerts (25%); (iii) chocking with 442 alerts (18%); (iv) electric shock with 263 alerts (10%); and (v) fire with 193 alerts (8%).

In addition, the risks detected via RAPEX vary greatly from one country to another. As an example, it was seen that alerts from Belgium exclusively concern toy products. However, in Ireland cosmetic and chemical products pose bigger problems. In Denmark, pyrotechnic products (fireworks) accounted for 20% of the alerts. In France, alert highlights included toys, motor vehicles and jewellery.

Thomas Berbach from the French General Directorate for Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control stated that “74% of costume jewellery sold on online platforms posed a chemical risk.” According to Mr. Berbach the jewellery contains EU-restricted elements such as lead or nickel, which are dangerous in case of prolonged contact with the human body.

With regard to producers, importers and distributors, once these entities become aware that a product is dangerous they must immediately take the necessary action to correct this situation and cooperate with national surveillance authorities.

The European Commission has engaged in regular cooperation with authorities in mainland China with regard to product safety matters. This includes a systematic exchange with the Chinese authorities on information related to alerts concerning unsafe products that are detected on the European market. The authorities in mainland China are being called upon to investigate the information received, disclose the results, and take follow-up actions locally and then report these back to the European Commission.

According to the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, the priority is to better collaborate with Chinese authorities. The proportion of defective goods coming from mainland China has, apparently recently reduced. However, Mrs. Jourová affirmed that more needs to be done to ensure better cooperation and has requested the Chinese authorities to facilitate the identification of manufacturers of dangerous products, in order that they can be informed of European rules and standards. In a press conference held on 5 April 2019 in Bucharest, she stressed that this will be a topic she will continue to defend, particularly during upcoming meetings with representatives of the Chinese government.

The European Commission further highlighted that RAPEX allows the rapid sharing of information on potentially dangerous non-food products between all countries in the European Economic Area (comprising the 28 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein). The system relies on national authorities sending their alerts to a centralised system, and reactions to alerts that have been sent by other countries. Alerts introduced into RAPEX are automatically translated into 25 languages to ensure that corrective measures, including withdrawals from the market or product recalls, are taken as quickly as possible.

However, even though the system is said to work well, it was highlighted that sellers and consumers do not always react to RAPEX alerts. One-third of consumers who know they possess a potentially dangerous product do not stop using it. And more than a third do not know that products can be recalled, according to a European Commission survey, which highlights the need to strengthen communication with sellers and the wider public.

To improve the visibility of company actions, the European Commission has also put in place a new Product Safety Award for the most responsible companies. In 2019, the prize focuses on online vendors and suppliers of childcare products. There are 12 Awards available: six for “online sales” and six for “childcare products”. A Gold, Silver or Bronze award will be given to three SMEs and three larger companies in each category. Winners will receive their awards from Commissioner Jourová in a ceremony in Brussels to be held in September 2019.

Hong Kong traders should be aware that, due to RAPEX, it was found that the majority of unsafe products notified in the system were imported, and that mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan were the countries of origin for 53% (1,191) of the alerts in 2018.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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