EC addresses market surveillance

By Sandy Guthrie28 November 2011

Market surveillance will play a key role if Europe is to remain competitive, although there are serious concerns that it doesn't work at the moment, a conference on market surveillance has heard.

Eric Amstutz, director of EAME (Europe, Africa and Middle East) public affairs for Caterpillar, told the conference that despite the fact that good tools had been laid down, they were not effective enough.

"Our industry is very regulated, and there are good reasons for products to be regulated," he said. "We don't mind. What we need is a level playing field and everyone must play by the rules."

The conference, arranged by the European Commission (EC) and held in Brussels, Belgium, heard repeated calls for a level playing field and appeals for fair treatment when it comes to compliance with EU rules and the CE mark which shows that a product conforms with EU directives.

Another speaker, Thomas Lyckvall, sales director and export executive of Swedish wheeled loader manufacturer Ljungby Maskin, and also chairman of the Trade Policy Commission at CECE (Committee for European Construction Equipment), said that complying with the regulations was expensive.

"But we're not concerned about the cost," he said. "We're worried that the competitor next to us at a trade fair doesn't have to worry about it." He said that non-compliance could cut the cost of machines by half.

Not just safety

Ralf Wezel, secretary general of CECE, was pleased that the conference had taken place, but he felt that some key people still only looked at the problem of non-compliance from a safety aspect, and then were only reactive to the situation.

"That's not what we want," he said. "We want them to protect our industry - and not just when an accident happens."

He highlighted the damage caused to the construction industry from unfair competition.

Jürgen Creutzmann MEP, a member if the IMCO (the European Parliament's Internal Market & Consumer Protection) Committee, agreed that market surveillance had two aims - to guarantee product safety and to ensure fair competition. "It needs to be more coherent and consistent," he added.

"Member states, especially ones with sea ports, must ensure proper checks are carried out. Sadly, this is not the case at the moment," said Mr Creutzmann.

Mr Lyckvall said that in a recent survey of manufacturers, dealers and rental companies, half said they had seen non-compliant machines on work sites, and a third said they had seen customers opt for non-compliant machines to save money.

He added that he had tipped off the authorities about non-compliant machinery he had seen. "They didn't even go and look," he said. "They were not interested."

Several times during the conference, it was suggested that it was not more rules that were needed, but better enforcement.

The marketing surveillance authorities are fragmented with little co-ordination at a national level, according to Robert Murphy of the EFTA Market Surveillance Authority. "I personally don't see that more controls is the answer," said Mr Murphy. He suggested "better, more targeted and more joined up" procedures.

"For the future, we must be realistic regarding resources with market surveillance authorities and customs." He added that customs were not experts in many areas - "nor ever will be, nor want to be".

The EC is producing a number of guidelines for customs officers. Caroline Edery, from the Taxation & Customs Union Directorate General, told the conference these guidelines were a starting point and that they covered what customs officers should check and what their reaction should be. Other details include an overview of new legislation plus the scope of border controls and operational procedures. The guides are translated into all EU languages.

For Manitowoc Crane Group executive vice president Philippe Cohet, the issue is wider than simply the machines themselves. He said, "The market in Europe is the biggest market in the world. There is intense competition - and a lot of emerging competition."

He said that it was not only non-compliant and counterfeit machines that were at the heart of the problem. Counterfeit components are also compromising machinery. "Steel, pulleys, electric motors - we are facing a lot of counterfeiting even in small parts of the overall machine."

Mr Cohet called for more education - for customs authorities, customers, other parties such as insurance companies, as well as salesforces and distribution networks.

John Meale, president of the European Federation for Materials Handling (FEM) was also worried about the effect of non-compliance on the industry. He said, "At FEM, we accept standards, but we have to have a situation where market surveillance is in place, or jobs will be lost." He said market surveillance was a pillar of the internal market, but that that it was no good if it was not respected.

Birgit Weidel, from the EC's Enterprise & Industry Directorate General, told the conference that the commission was "working very seriously and taking a strong line". She said it was looking to overcome weaknesses in enforcement, through the sharing of information and the extension of the RAPEX - the EU's rapid alert system for dangerous consumer products - to cover non-consumer goods.

The conference was introduced by Luis Felipe Girao, from the EC's Enterprise & Industry Directorate General, who summed up by saying that the conference would be followed up, with further contact with members of the industries affected, Member States, trades unions and consumers.

Website

A website, at machinery-surveillance.eu, has been set up, and has been designed as a resource database of technical material from European machinery industries.

Paul Burger, general manager international at Hitachi Construction Machinery (Europe), and who is a member of CECE's Trade Policy Commission, said, "We have been fighting for this for a long time, and this conference is a major step forward. It's now down to individual nations."

While he felt that the conference had been a good one, he added that it was a pity that representatives of some key EU countries had not attended.

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