Hogan Lovells partner discusses plan to reform General Product Safety Directive

Rod Freeman, a partner at Hogan Lovells, has commented on the European Commission’s proposals for reform of the General Product Safety Directive (2001/95/EC) — or GPSD — describing the measures as being of an ‘evolutionary nature’ while having ‘important practical implications’ to those who manufacture, distribute or sell products.

The GPSD applies to consumer products that are not covered by specific sector legislation. The new proposals are hoped to strengthen market surveillance concerning all non-food products, including those imported from third countries.

Reform of the directive has been actively discussed for more than three years. Once adopted by the European parliament and by the council, the new measures will be enforced by the national market surveillance authorities in the member states of the EU.

The European Commission considers that improvements in relation to identification and traceability, which would be introduced by the new proposals, will help take unsafe products out of the market quickly. In addition, the national market surveillance authorities in the member states will benefit from strengthened co-operation and enhanced tools to carry out surveillance and enforcement activity.

Freeman, who specialises in product liability and product regulatory matters, said: ‘While the introduction of the new GPSD in 2001 was a revolutionary step in the regulation of product safety, these latest developments are more of an evolutionary nature, building on the steps that have been taken to develop the European regulatory regime over the past decade.

‘Having said that, these new measures will have some important practical implications for those who manufacture, distribute or sell products. For example, they include significant new labelling and documentation obligations and the prospect of greater scrutiny and regulatory intervention when unsafe products are placed on the market.’

According to Freeman, the changes will result in additional costs for businesses and, to some degree, greater risks in the event that unexpected problems arise. He added: ‘However, to the extent that these changes introduce greater predictability, certainty and expertise among the authorities, they are very positive steps for all stakeholders. It is also in the interests of all legitimate stakeholders that there be good product safety regulations, properly and appropriately enforced, to ensure that consumers and markets are protected from rogues who are prepared to take shortcuts when it comes to compliance. Reducing the ability for rogue businesses to trade creates a more level playing field and reduces unfair competition.’

The new measures are intended to go some way to achieving the elimination of ‘unfair competition from dishonest or criminal rogue operators’ — one of the considerations behind the European Commission’s proposals for reform.