Since 2013 ”, Product, Your Responsibility” is arranged every other year by the authorities in the Market Surveillance Council in cooperation with Business Sweden, the Swedish Trade Federation and the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries. This year, interest achieved an all-time high and it was unfortunately not possible to accommodate all. Presentations from authorities and business alternated with plenty of opportunities to network, ask questions and exchange experiences, not least in the exhibition area where the organisers had their showcases, all under the auspices of Åsa Julin, moderator.
Peter Strömbäck, the chair of the Market Surveillance Council, introduced the seminar. He witnessed on the high level of non-compliant products on the market and meant that both business and consumers are losers on such a market. In a healthy business climate, where everybody complies with the rules, there is fair competition. Consumers shall also be able to expect that the products they buy are safe. A level playing field is needed and one piece of the puzzle is that the State ensures that, besides well-functioning product legislation, there is a well-functioning market surveillance. It is all about sharpening Swedish competition, promoting increased trade and a high level of consumer protection.
Ann Linde, Minister for EU Affairs and Trade, spoke of the Government’s responsibility and work to create good conditions for well-functioning trade, among other things rules that are easy for companies to understand and comply with. One of the major initiatives of the present Government is the Export Strategy, launched in 2015, and the Minister talked about some of the activities in the framework of this strategy, e.g. the establishment of Team Sweden and regional export centres and the development of the website verksamt.se, a digital gateway for companies. She talked about better regulation; simple and well-motivated rules shall be a guiding principle for everybody in the Government Offices that work with regulatory issues. The next step is to make sure that the rules actually are complied with and here is where market surveillance comes into the picture. It has to be order in the market. Complying companies shall not have to compete with companies that consciously break the rules and thus are able to sell products at a lower price. Companies and consumers shall be able to be confident that products on the market are compliant.
At national level, the Government has appointed a special Inquiry Commission that shall review parts of the Swedish legal framework for market surveillance to make it more efficient. The Commission shall present its proposals in the autumn. Market surveillance is also an important part in the Government’s EU related work. The Minister underlined the importance of cross-border cooperation and that market surveillance is performed in a uniform manner in all Member States. In this context, she mentioned that the EU Commission, within the framework of its Internal Market Strategy, is expected to put forward a proposal on new legislation on market surveillance by summer. Important for Sweden is that the rules are adapted to modern technology and new manufacturing and consumption patterns, she said.
Sara Elfving, the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, talked about the fundamental responsibilities that different economic operators have. The manufacturer is always the main responsible for his/her products, but also importers and distributors have far reaching obligations concerning conformity, traceability, documentation and cooperation with authorities. Rauni Melin, the Medical Products Agency, gave practical examples on the obligations of different economic operators from the newly adopted legislation on medical devices. Current legislation does not regulate importers and distributors and the latter therefore have to analyse what the new Regulations mean to them in this respect.
Cecilia Norlander, the Consumer Agency, informed of the rules that apply for web sales. She focused on information that has to be shown on the website, e.g. contact details to the company (an e-mail address is not sufficient), information on the qualities of the product, price, delivery costs, payment conditions, duration of the agreement, conditions to terminate the agreement and information about rights of withdrawal and complaints. If such information is missing or not clear enough, the customer is not bound by the agreement.
Jenny Virdarson, the Chemical Agency, and Camilla Sjöberg, the Swedish Trade Federation, reminded that all actors in the distribution chain have a responsibility to ensure that the product made available on the market has to comply with all requirements. Not all responsibility may thus be put on an actor further up the chain. They underlined the importance of companies identifying all the requirements that the company and its products have to comply with before they manufacture, buy or sell. It is not always easy or self-evident which all the rules are. Many companies are, for example, not aware of the fact that most products have to comply with specific chemical legislation.
Try to find out whether your supplier is aware of applicable rules by asking specific questions was one of their recommendations. Another was to document specific requirements. If the agreed product should not comply with requirements, the company has the possibility to revoke the agreement and to claim damages. The damage can, for example, consist of costs occurred in connection with restrictive measures such as sales ban and recalls or fines by the market surveillance authority.
Karl Flöhr and Per Holgersson, Swedish Customs, talked about different legal frameworks for trade within the EU and for trade with countries outside the EU respectively, with focus on the latter. The Customs has extensive powers to stop and check products being imported from third countries, as opposed to the very limited powers to check products coming from countries within the EU.
Every year, Swedish Customs handle 6,4 million customs declarations. It is impossible for the Customs to check all products and the controls are therefore based on risk assessment. Customs is to a great extent depending on information from, and cooperation with, the market surveillance authorities to be able to identify and stop non-compliant products from entry into the Swedish market. If a product is stopped at the border, the Customs has to have an initial compliance assessment from the competent market surveillance authority within three working days, which preconditions good cooperation between customs and the market surveillance authorities. There is also extensive cooperation between the customs authorities in the EU to prevent companies from trying to import a product – which has been denied free circulation in one Member State – through another Member State. The Customs underlined that even if you succeed to import a non-compliant product through customs, this does not mean that it can circulate freely on the Swedish or EU markets, but market surveillance authorities can always take restrictive measures when they discover the product in their surveillance.
Maria Lundberg, Business Sweden, gave information on what you should think about when exporting products. It is of utmost importance to find out exactly which rules apply on different markets. She drew particularly attention to different mandatory safety requirements and product certifications, but also to voluntary, market driven, certification and labelling schemes as well as requirements of packaging, recycling, instructions and warnings. She further recommended the use of professional translators of documentation and contracts, to have a dialogue with insurance companies and to keep continuously updated on legislation, which is constantly changed.
Katarina Olofsson, the Electrical Safety Board, och Anna Johansson Norlén, the Energy Agency, went through the legal basis for market surveillance, gave examples of powers of market surveillance authorities and how the surveillance is conducted in practice, with examples from their different areas of responsibility. The authorities initiate checks on different bases, e.g. from complaints, notifications and tips from the public or authorities in other countries. The checks may be performed in different ways; physical checks of the product, documentary or marketing checks, in physical or web shops. If they find that a product is non-compliant, they take measures. Depending on the severity of the non-compliance, the authority can decide on e.g. sales ban, fine or recall.
Where the same product has qualities that fall under the responsibility of several authorities, cooperation is important, partly to use the resources of the authorities more efficiently, but also not to disrupt companies more than necessary in their daily business. To ensure equal conditions and levels of protection on the internal market, cross-border cooperation is key. Katarina and Anna gave several examples of such joint actions.
Maria Brunstedt, Kronan Trademark AB, shared her experiences of information to customers and cooperation with the Consumer Agency, responsible market surveillance authority for baby strollers, a product marketed by the company, in connection with a recall case where a safety defect was discovered in a stroller model. Prompt management, transparency and clarity are keywords to keep confidence among customers in the process of recall. There was also good cooperation with the Consumer Agency and Maria underlined the importance of an open and close dialogue with the market surveillance authorities and said that authorities could provide good support to companies. She encouraged companies in the audience to keep a lower threshold for initiating dialogue with authorities and the authorities to be more visible, so that companies would know where and how to contact them.
Stefan Nilsson, Volvo Construction Equipment, said that it took a great deal of resources to keep up-to-date with all rules, especially when you are acting on a global market. There are many applicable and potentially applicable legal acts for the products Volvo CE develop, manufacture and market (mobile machines for construction and related industries), legal acts that fall under the responsibility of several authorities. Among the challenges the company faces, Stefan mentioned particularly cases where customers in different ways modify the original product and the difficulties this entails for product liability and brand, but also problems with illegal import, falsified documents and that customers sometimes require additional certificates to mandatory ones. The latter risks undermining the role of self-certification and, ultimately, confidence in the manufacturer, he said.
Like Maria, Stefan underlined the importance of transparency in the relations with distributors and customers. He stated that importers, distributors and customers in general possess quite poor knowledge on existing rules and that the sanctions are not deterrent for actors that market non-compliant products. He said that an effective market surveillance is a precondition for confidence in legislation. To be able to comply with all obligations you have as a company, he recommended continuous market analysis, commitment in trade organisations and in standardisation as well as good contacts with authorities. Well-functioning cooperation between business and authorities, from the drawing up of legislation to market surveillance, creates mutual trust and understanding for the objectives of the legislator. Finally, he pointed out a need for authorities to be more active in international standardisation.
At Mentimetervotings between presentations, statistics showed that almost 80 % of the companies present suspected that their competitors take a chance that non-compliances do not exist or are not discovered by the authorities. 50 % were of the opinion that the market surveillance was not effective. These figures were starting points for the panel discussion towards the end of the seminar. Representatives from Business Sweden, the National Board of Trade, the Swedish Trade Federation, the Swedish Board for Accreditation and Conformity Assessment and the Association of Engineering Industries were not surprised by the figures and gave examples on how they in different ways tried to improve the situation by either helping or obliging companies to comply with rules.
Anna Stattin said that the Government’s instruction to the Swedish Board for Accreditation and Conformity Assessment was to promote a well-functioning internal market, open, strong and multilateral trade and appropriate schemes for conformity assessment that shall contribute to a high level of safety and quality. As national accreditation body and designating authority for notified bodies, Swedac assesses laboratories, certification and inspection bodies that manufacturers can turn to comply with requirements. As responsible for the coordination of the Swedish market surveillance, Swedac provides the secretariat to the Market Surveillance Council and tries to promote cooperation between authorities and efficient market surveillance and that authorities have sufficient powers and resources. Swedac also guides companies through the plethora of legislation and responsible authorities and places great weight on information to companies.
Lena Nordquist said that the National Board of Trade, like Swedac is a governmental agency with a special assignment to promote the free movement within the EU and a correct application of EU law in Sweden. The National Board of Trade has several functions to this objective, e.g. as national contact point for products and SOLVIT. The contact point provides information on national product rules and through SOLVIT companies can get help in cases where they believe that authorities are not acting in accordance with EU law. Both functions are free of charge.
The Swedish Trade Federation is a trade and employer organisation for companies in the retail and import business. The 11 000 member companies employ in total 300 000 persons. Ann Christiansson informed on how the Trade Federation can help members to provide safe products and traceability in the distribution chain. Ann said that the Federation considers a well-functioning market surveillance very important and a precondition for not distorting completion. Companies that invest time and money and work systematically with compliance shall not be disadvantaged. Most companies do want to comply, but knowledge varies. Small companies rarely have a specific person responsible for these issues.
A priority issue for the Swedish Trade Federation is that regulatory and market surveillance authorities have to tackle the challenges posed by the ever-increasing e-commerce from third countries. Legislation needs to be modernised and adapted to the global and digital consumer buying products directly from factories in third countries via e-platforms.
Anna Stattin said that the e-commerce issue is already a priority among authorities who, nationally and internationally, are currently developing best practices as well as trying to influence legislation in this area.
Emanuel Badehi Kullander gave information on what kind of support the Association of Engineering Industries can give its members in forms of counselling, help with drawing up standard contracts and influencing requirements on products and quality. Emanuel underlined the importance of having complying companies benefit and that market surveillance plays a particular central role in this respect. Market surveillance has to be given the priority and resources it needs to be able to strengthen the confidence in the European system of essential requirements, market driven standards, conformity assessment and market surveillance. It is very important that the last pillar, market surveillance, is not lost.
Maria Lundberg said that Business Sweden was established 1 January 2013 through the merge of the Export Council and Invest Sweden. Business Sweden is owned jointly by the State and the business community and has as its objective to help Swedish companies to make business on foreign markets and foreign companies to invest and expand in Sweden. This is done through strategic counselling and practical support, in Sweden and on close to 50 other markets.
Finally, the panel discussed the expectations of the up-coming legislative proposal that the EU Commission is expected to present by summer. The proposals that have been discussed in different fora – expert groups, public consultations etc. – basically originate from three challenges; the lack of knowledge of the sometimes very complex legislation, that market surveillance and border controls today are not sufficiently effective or deterrent as well as difficulties in identifying and controlling companies selling products via Internet, particularly from third countries and directly to the consumer. Together, this creates insecurity amongst both companies that want to do the right thing and authorities. The panel hoped for the up-coming legislative proposal to clarify the legal framework, give the market surveillance authorities the powers and obligations needed to be able to find and take action against cheating companies, to ensure fair competition and to prevent dangerous products from being made available on the market.
Peter Strömbäck, the chair of the Market Surveillance Council, gave a brief summary of the day and some thoughts about the future. He mentioned that product rules, standardization, certification, accreditation and market surveillance are all important components in the Swedish as well as the global infrastructure that can create good conditions for increased trade. Clear and predictable rules are the foundations for a well-functioning market and safe consumers. Companies and authorities need to work closer together. Authorities have to try to be more visible and show how they can help companies to do the right thing from the beginning. Trade organisations have similar responsibilities. Together, we can meet possibilities and challenges, e.g. related to digitalisation and e-commerce.
Photo: Anette Malmström