The increasing global trend towards the sharing of consumer product information across borders and between market participants and regulators continued in 2014. Corporations involved in any stage of the consumer product supply chain should be aware of the consequences and risks, as well as the potential benefits of these developments. In this article, we provide an update on recent developments with some of the key regional information exchanges.
US/EU/China TrilatVeral Summit
The 2014 trilateral summit attended by representatives of the product safety authorities from the EU, China and the US was the latest in a series of biennial discussions between these authorities with the aim of developing a coordinated response to consumer product safety challenges.
The importance of information exchange has been a recurring theme in these discussions. In the authorities' joint press statement following the 2014 summit, they asserted the importance of international regulatory cooperation and noted that discussions had covered how to make practical use of the concept of “seamless surveillance”, i.e. cooperation between product safety authorities in countries of origin and in countries of destination.
A number of other priorities were also discussed, including:
- exchanging information regularly, and as early as possible, on major safety issues and on new and prospective developments in consumer product surveillance systems;
- sharing ideas regarding cooperation to implement the concept of seamless surveillance; and
- exploring the possible convergence of safety requirements for consumer products.
The Organisation of American States (OAS), which comprises 35 states in North and South America, also promotes information exchange across borders. The OAS's Consumer Safety and Health Network(CSHN) is a tool that allows both consumers and authorities within the region to exchange and disseminate information on product safety issues, for example acting as a warning system in respect of products deemed unsafe by overseas markets.
On 23 October 2014, the Permanent Council of the OAS adopted the Operational Rules of the Consumer Safety and Health Fund, which aims to contribute to the strengthening of the CSHN by financing activities with regard to institution building, exchange of experiences, and the design and implementation of the Inter-American Rapid Product Safety Warning System, through which American countries will be able to share alerts on product safety and join global initiatives on this issue.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s Working Party on Consumer Product Safety launched a Global Recalls portal in 2012 to provide easy access via a single website to information on products recalled from the market in Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States. This addresses the first of a ten-point action plan developed by the OECD in this area. The Working Party is also developing a platform to hold data on reported product related injuries.
Currently, regulators from the US, the EU, Australia and Canada upload information to the portal (although Canada did not list any recalls in 2014). Other regulators are expected to use the portal in the future, including regulators in Brazil and Mexico who are partners of the project. 747 recalls were listed on the portal in 2014, of which 210 were listed by Australia, 207 by the US and 330 by EU members.
The increase in cross-border information sharing of this nature presents potential benefits to participants in the product supply chain, including enhanced regulator guidance and opportunities to conduct international business within a more consistent regulatory framework. However, this also presents certain challenges. In addition to losing some control over the management of an evolving product safety issue, participants must also be prepared to deal with the increasing speed with which product information can be disseminated and the consequent potential for increased reputational damage should a regulator, or indeed a consumer, decide to share negative information in respect of a product. Being aware of the various information sharing networks, reviewing the accuracy of information shared and proactively managing relationships with users will prove critical if a company finds itself the subject of negative reporting.