Consumer Protection and Product Safety Programme

Programme description

Title: Consumer Protection and Product Safety Programme
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: China
Lead executing agency: State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC), General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ)
Overall term: 2010 to 2014

Context

Consumer protection: Liberalisation of the Chinese market is enabling consumers in China to freely select goods and services throughout virtually the entire country from a seemingly unlimited supply. Rising prosperity in Chinese society is driving this growth in demand, and thus in overall consumption. However, consumer protection efforts in China have hitherto proven incapable of keeping pace with this rapid economic development.

While the main priority of China’s policy of ‘Reform and Opening’ has been to drive the nation’s economic development, the establishment of a ‘harmonious society’ serves specifically to compensate for the social imbalance wrought by such rapid economic growth. Strengthening consumer protection is an important part of these efforts. As a result, the Chinese state leadership has turned its attention to consumer policy, focusing on it now perhaps more than any other political issue.

Product safety: China’s economy has long been part of the globalised world. The safety of Chinese products thus affects consumers worldwide. International media therefore respond loudly to scandals involving hazardous small magnets, lead paint in children’s toys or highly inflammable electronic devices originating from China.

The EU is the second largest market for Chinese products, next to the United States. The European early warning system for hazardous products – the Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX) – has reported an excessively high number of particularly hazardous goods imported from China. In Europe, this has already caused a marked loss of consumer trust in goods stamped ’Made in China’.

In today’s world, manufacturers in China and Europe are confronted by a huge number of national, European and international product safety standards. What is more, the periods of validity of these standards have shortened considerably in the wake of growing diversification and increasingly faster product innovation cycles.

Objective

The system of consumer protection and product safety in China is oriented to international standards.

Approach

The programme advises key national institutions in China, such as the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) and the China Consumers’ Association (CCA) on issues of consumer protection, as well as the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) and the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine (CAIQ), on matters of product safety concern. These advisory services focus on key, specific issues of law, policy and organisation. Underlying the work is a Sino-German professional and technical dialogue involving key Chinese institutions as well as Germany’s Federal Ministries of Economics and Technology (BMWi) and of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). This includes the subordinate organisations and takes into account any bilateral declarations of intent between the various agencies involved.

Consumer protection: The programme advises SAIC and CCA on their efforts to reform Chinese consumer protection legislation by improving the statutory framework for sustainable, long-term consumer protection. It implements capacity development measures for skilled, expert and managerial staff in order to extend access for consumers of Chinese products to reliable information on goods and services relevant to their decision-making. The programme is also trial-testing comparative product quality tests along the lines of Stiftung Warentest, Germany’s leading consumer safety group. The programme supports SAIC and CCA in improving and expanding their individual consumer consultancy services by training multipliers and developing systematic training materials based, for example, on the experience of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv), a non-governmental umbrella organisation.

Product safety: The programme advises AQSIQ, SAC and CAIQ in their work to draft laws and bylaws governing product safety, to promote standardisation in general, and in particular to improve the regulation of two specific product groups: electrical appliances and toys. These efforts seek to consolidate existing Chinese standards and harmonise these rules with German and European codes and standards. Capacity development among skilled, expert and managerial workers is used to enhance implementation of these revised standards. The programme supports the exchange of professional and technical information and experience between the relevant Chinese institutions in charge of standardisation, testing and certification, with their German and European counterparts. One good example has been the collaboration between the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) and SAC. The programme is furthermore working in cooperation with pertinent institutions to find ways of spreading information on German, European and international standards among Chinese manufacturers. The new EU directive on the safety of toys will play an important role in these efforts.

The programme plans to implement pilot measures targeting electrical appliances and toys as product groups. China’s toy production plants are located almost exclusively in the south-western province of Guangdong, which is why this province has already been selected as the pilot region for a project with the Shenzhen Institute for Standards and Technology (SIST) to test procedures for identifying and verifying hazardous materials in toys.

Because cooperation with Chinese business and industry to improve product safety is an integral part of the programme, an integrated public-private partnership (PPP) fund has been established within the programme scope. Planning is already underway to introduce PPP measures in collaboration with German electrical appliance and toy industries.