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Improved cooperation helps to keep imported products containing harmful chemicals out of the EU market
Enforcement and customs authorities have worked together to check whether imported products comply with certain REACH restriction obligations and classification and labelling requirements under CLP. The results show that the safety of imported articles, substances and mixtures needs improvement with 1 in 4 products checked during the project found to be non-compliant.
What was checked?
Altogether 1 389 imported products were checked by 16 Member States during ECHA Enforcement Forum’s latest pilot project.
The inspectors took samples of various products to check whether the amounts of restricted substances such as cadmium, lead and nickel were within the thresholds set out under REACH. They also looked at classification, labelling and packaging of imported hazardous chemicals as part of the project.
The project was mainly carried out at entry points to Europe, such as harbours, airports or land borders, but also at inland customs offices where goods were declared for free circulation. The imported products were checked while under customs supervision so that non-compliant products could still be stopped from entering the European market.
Controlling the presence of cadmium, lead and nickel
1 225 products were controlled to see if they contained cadmium, lead or nickel.
These heavy metals were chosen due to the high rates of non-compliance observed during the harmonised enforcement project on restrictions (REF-4) carried out in 2016. Each participating country could also choose to check the presence of other restricted substances, based on their national priorities. For example, checks for asbestos in thermos flasks, phthalates in toys and azocolourants in textile and leather items were reported.
Jewellery and other metal articles, such as gold or silversmith wares and different types of watches, were the most commonly checked products. Plastic and leather articles were also checked. Inspectors in some countries used handheld X-ray Fluorescence instruments to both screen imported goods for these chemicals and to carry out on-the-spot analysis.
Overall, 17 % of the inspected articles contained cadmium, lead, nickel or other restricted substances above the levels specified in the restriction entries under REACH. The majority of non-compliances were for cadmium and lead in jewellery. Nickel was also found in jewellery and metal articles. The levels of non-compliance observed during this project are similar to the findings from the REF-4 project which showed 18 % overall non-compliance with restrictions.
Some authorities also checked imported leather items for chromium (VI) and found that 17 % of the checked products were non-compliant. This rate exceeds the previous findings of REF-4 where the non-compliance rate was 13 %.
74 % of all products found to be non-compliant originated in China, followed by the United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, North Macedonia and Madagascar.
Articles which did not comply with the restriction obligations were not allowed to enter the EU market. 65 % of them had to be destroyed, 21 % were re-exported and the rest were placed in a temporary storage.
Checking classification and labels
When controlling duties under the CLP Regulation, inspectors checked aspects related to the classification, labelling and packaging of products, including elements such as whether the labels were affixed to the packaging correctly or whether up-to-date pictograms were present.
In total, 167 products were checked for CLP compliance. Authorities were faced with a high number of deficiencies as 107 products were found to be non-compliant, which means that 64 % did not comply with the rules. Most of the non-compliant products originated in the US.
The most common issues noted by inspectors were related to labelling requirements. For example, labels were missing the correct national language, hazard statements, signal words or pictograms. Some products had an incorrect pictogram and some did not contain any labelling at all.
Generally, inspectors prevented the goods that were non-compliant with CLP from entering the EU market. 26 % of these stopped goods were later released for free circulation after corrective actions were taken or follow-up with the importer was agreed.
The overall non-compliance rate in the 2018 Forum project checking compliance of classification and labelling of mixtures was 44 %.
Recommendations for importers and enforcement authorities
The main responsibility rests on importers to make sure that the products they bring to the EU market are safe. Importers should be selective when choosing their partners from non-EEA countries – if their suppliers cannot provide compliant articles, then importers should choose other suppliers who can.
Enforcement authorities should increase their focus on imported products – one of the recommendations of this project underlines the importance of putting systematic and harmonised controls in place for imported products. These controls could also help to send a message to third countries to take the necessary measures to improve the safety of their products which are imported to the EU.
Collaboration between enforcement and customs authorities
|Alfred Ebnet. |
Image: Alfred Ebnet.
|“The pilot project has shown that different models of cooperation and even different roles of authorities deliver good results. The project has again confirmed that cooperation on a national level in the reporting Member States is established and functioning well.” |
Efficient cooperation between national enforcement authorities and customs is a necessity to make sure that non-compliant products are stopped before they enter the EU market. According to Mr Alfred Ebnet, expert for prohibitions and restrictions at the German Central Customs Authority and member of the working group managing the Forum project, “the pilot project has shown that different models of cooperation and even different roles of authorities deliver good results. The project has again confirmed that cooperation on a national level in the reporting Member States is established and functioning well.”
In Germany, the REACH/CLP enforcement authorities physically joined customs officers during the inspections to allow both parties to better understand each other’s methods while carrying out control activities. “Using this model of cooperation allows on-the-spot checks and fast decisions concerning the clearance of goods. But it also requires thorough coordination of common activities for a limited inspection period. So, a more effective and sustainable approach to use in the long run could be a model where we at customs integrate risk profiles based on information received from the national enforcement authorities into our electronic clearance systems,” he explains.
Effective risk management and having more specific risk profiles in national systems would also help the customs authorities to target the right products for further controls and they could avoid causing delays for legitimate goods. “In addition, if there is valuable information on non-compliant economic operators, that intelligence should be shared at EU level,” Mr Ebnet highlights.
As the concluded pilot project shows, it is important to continue and increase the efforts put into controlling imported goods at European borders. For Mr Ebnet, the implementing acts of the new Market Surveillance Regulation (EU 2019/1020) will further strengthen the cooperation between the different authorities.
“This legal framework for controls on products entering the EU market will also apply to REACH and CLP related import controls and so the whole toolbox, with benchmarks and techniques for checks based on common risk analysis at EU level, will present us a big opportunity for improvement,” he concludes.
Pilot project on cooperation with customs in enforcement of REACH Restrictions and CLP Labelling
Text and interview by Päivi Jokiniemi
Published on: 29 September 2020
Top image: © Pexels/Tom Fisk
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Biocidal Products Committee:
30 November-4 December (tentative)
Committee for Risk Assessment:
6-8 October (RAC-52B);
30 November-4 December (tentative);
7-11 December (tentative)
Committee for Socio-Economic
30 November-4 December (tentative);
7-11 December (tentative)
Member State Committee:
7-11 December (tentative)
Management Board meeting: