Prod­uct safety makes good busi­ness sense

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Comment Editorials • Opinion -

This ismy first visit to China as the Euro­pean Union’s com­mis­sioner for con­sumer pol­icy rep­re­sent­ing more than half a bil­lion con­sumers from what is still the largest in­te­grated mar­ket in the world. It is a mar­ket with no in­ter­nal bar­ri­ers and one set of rules and stan­dards, a mar­ket which China greatly ben­e­fits from, as does the EU from the Chi­nese mar­ket. Ev­ery sin­gle daywe trade goods val­ued at €1 bil­lion ($1.36 bil­lion).

The Chi­nese econ­omy has grown be­yond all recog­ni­tion over the past 30 years. This is a mon­u­men­tal achieve­ment, but one which also has cre­ated huge chal­lenges. The role of the con­sumer is chang­ing in China, as ev­i­denced from the in­creas­ing de­mand for safe prod­ucts.

Thus, as busi­ness glob­al­izes, with de­sign from one con­ti­nent, pro­duc­tion in an­other and dis­tri­bu­tion and mar­ket­ing skills from a third, we are also see­ing a glob­al­iza­tion of con­sumer in­ter­ests. We are all con­sumers, we all want to be safe and we also want our fam­i­lies to be safe.

Last week, the fourth tri­lat­eral sum­mit on con­sumer prod­uct safety was held in Brussels, bring­ing to­gether the EU, China and the United States. The sum­mit was a clear demon­stra­tion that prod­uct safety is no longer a na­tional or re­gional is­sue; it is a global is­sue.

The three sides share­much­com­mon ground based on the viewthat the safety of con­sumer prod­ucts is of ut­most im­por­tance. We agreed to work to­gether in a num­ber of ar­eas, in­clud­ing deep­en­ing di­a­logue, shar­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and com­mu­ni­cat­ing more ef­fec­tively with con­sumers and pro­duc­ers.

My visit to China is a con­crete fol­low-up to the meet­ing in Brussels. I met with Zhi Shup­ing, di­rec­tor ofGen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Qual­ity Su­per­vi­sion, In­spec­tion and Quar­an­tine; Zhang Yong, head of China Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion; and ZhangMao, di­rec­tor of State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for In­dus­try and Com­merce (whomI also met in Brussels last week); as well as Wang Zhongfu, pres­i­dent of China Con­sumers As­so­ci­a­tion. My aim is to see how we can best work to­gether to im­prove prod­uct safety.

Prod­uct safety is good not only for con­sumers, but also for businesses. The old mantra, “the cus­tomer is al­ways right”, cer­tainly ap­plies to safety. Safety sells, as a num­ber of car man­u­fac­tur­ers have demon­strated over the years, bas­ing their brand­ing not nec­es­sar­ily on speed or style but on safety. Safety is closely as­so­ci­ated with qual­ity.

As Chi­nese pro­duc­ers move rapidly up the value chain, it is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for them to en­hance the safety rep­u­ta­tion of their con­sumer prod­ucts. I would ar­gue that safety should be at the fore­front of a com­pany’s strat­egy. A “safety re­flex” should not sim­ply be some­thing which you do be­cause the law re­quires you to do so but be­cause it makes good busi­ness sense.

This is not to say that a clear and ef­fi­cient reg­u­la­tory prod­uct safety regime is not es­sen­tial. On the con­trary, as we have learnt in the EU, safety starts at home. En­sur­ing prod­uct safety in the do­mes­tic mar­ket acts as a spring­board for ex­ports. I in­tend to dis­cuss with Chi­nese of­fi­cials how we can fur­ther work to­gether to en­cour­age and in­stil this safety cul­ture with the eco­nomic oper­a­tors.

Safety is im­por­tant, but so is the way it is achieved. Let me give a very spe­cific ex­am­ple: cos­met­ics. In the EU we have very clear, rig­or­ous rules on prod­uct safety. Along with that, we also have very clear rules on how this safety can be demon­strated. For in­stance, we have a com­plete ban on an­i­mal test­ing for cos­met­ics. This ban was driven by con­sumers; it is what they wanted, and rather than be­ing seen by businesses as a nui­sance, it should be rec­og­nized that it makes good busi­ness sense to give the cus­tomers what they want.

Last week in Brussels, I dis­cussed with Chi­nese of­fi­cials closer co­op­er­a­tion in the field of con­sumer pro­tec­tion, af­ter which the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Direc­torateGen­eral for Health and Con­sumers and China’s State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for In­dus­try and Com­merce is­sued a joined state­ment. The first con­crete co­op­er­a­tion ac­tiv­ity as a re­sult of the dis­cus­sions is tak­ing place this week with a joint sem­i­nar on con­sumer dis­pute res­o­lu­tion and e-com­merce in Bei­jing. Pro­tect­ing and em­pow­er­ing con­sumers is an es­sen­tial ob­jec­tive, par­tic­u­larly in China, with the tremen­dous de­vel­op­ment of e-com­merce which sees €40,000 be­ing trans­acted ev­ery sin­gle sec­ond.

My visit to China has been fruit­ful and I am­sure that to­gether we can strengthen co­op­er­a­tion to en­hance prod­uct safety for the ben­e­fit of con­sumers and businesses alike. The au­thor is Euro­pean com­mis­sioner for con­sumer pol­icy.

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