Product safety makes good business sense
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.