Fredrik Gronkvist, based in Shanghai, is the co-founder of ChinaImportal.com, which recently launched a platform named ComplianceGate.com.
In this article, you will learn what ‘Product compliance’ really means, and what you, as an importer, have to do in practice to ensure your products are compliant.
Keep reading and learn more about chemical restrictions, document requirements, labeling, and laboratory testing.
Q: Importers who buy products from China or other low-cost countries want to be in compliance with the regulations of the market(s) they will operate on. But what does this mean?
Product compliance mean different things depending on the product and the market. However, making a product compliant normally involves at least one of the following:
a. Product Safety: Some products must be compliant with one or more safety standards. This may set specific design requirements for electronic products, or physical proportions for toys.
Some standards are developed for specific products, or categories. In other cases, directives (i.e., Low Voltage Directive) refer to entire lists of standards (i.e., IEC, ISO, ASTM and EN standards).
But not all products are covered by ‘product specific’ safety standards. What is important to understand is that you, as an importer, are responsible for ensuring that all products that you place on the market are safe.
Hence, you must assess all usage and safety aspects when you develop a new product, NOT only look at whether there are any existing safety standards and, in turn, what the technical requirements are.
b. Substance Regulations: In the EU, US, and other markets, there are restrictions on chemicals, heavy metals, and pollutants. A product that contains excessive amounts of restricted substances is illegal.
That means you cannot sell it on your market.
As an importer, you should refer to framework regulations that restrict a large number of substances. This includes REACH in the EU, and CA Prop 65 in California.
As such, you refer to the titles of the substance regulations when submitting your requirements to your supplier, or booking a laboratory test.
c. Document Requirements: Refers to self-issued documents and documents issued by third parties. For example, importers in the EU must normally issue a Declaration of Conformity.
This is used by the authorities, and customers, to check if the products are compliant. Indeed, it may seem to be a formality. However, the authorities will issue a fine, and may force a recall, if you don’t have the full set of documents.
And that is even if the products are, technically speaking, compliant.
You may also need to create a file, including design drawings, list of applied standards, photocopies of labels and manuals, risk assessment and more.
So, third party documents. That is normally test reports issued by compliance testing companies, such as SGS. I will get back to that in a bit.
d. Labeling Requirements: You all know this. CE marking, FCC labels, Country of Origin. The list goes on. A product and its packaging must be correctly labeled, or it’s not legal to be placed on the market.
e. Testing Requirements: This is what most buyers tend to think about when they hear the word “compliance”. Still, the truth is that lab testing is not mandatory for all products. In fact, third party testing is not mandatory for most products.
But even when that is the case, a third party test (assuming you don’t have the equipment) is the only way to verify compliance.
Where to find information about those regulations?
That’s the big question. Again, the answer depends entirely on the product and the market.
The problem is that product regulations tend to be administered by different government bodies.
For example, if you want to import electronic kitchen appliances, you would need to get in touch with the regulator for food contact materials, electronic products – and possibly an authority that keeps track of general consumer goods labeling and document requirements.
What makes things even more complicated is that many of these government bodies don’t have the resources to provide small businesses with actionable information.
The legal texts are available online, but it can be very hard to make an assessment, to a specific product, based on 200 pages of legal text from the 90s.
There are a few sources though that are readily available:
- ProductIP: An online platform for EU-based companies to buy lists of requirements and create the product documentation.
- CPSC Small Business Ombudsman: A free online support service provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. They can give you a lot of great information about federal consumer safety regulations in the US.
- ComplianceGate.com: First, I shall clarify that this is our platform. We connect Importers and Exporters with specialized Product compliance agencies and consultants. You can submit a free enquiry on the site, and we’ll select the right consultant for you.
Q: In practical terms, what should importers do to ensure they are in compliance? Can they simply send a few samples to TUV, UL, or Intertek, ask them to conduct the applicable tests?
The answer is usually no. It’s rarely that simple.
First, a third-party test gives you a test report. That may or may not be a mandatory document. However, the test report is rarely the only document you need to maintain, as I mentioned previously.
But compliance starts way, way, before the lab test.
First, you need to assess if your supplier even has the technical capability to manufacture compliant goods. The methods differ by industry, but at a minimum, you should ask your supplier to provide previously issued test reports and other compliance documents.
These documents cannot be “reused” for your products, but it’s a strong indicator of whether or not the supplier is even capable to make “compliant” products. Technically speaking, compliant.
Just look at Shenzhen. You have everything from assembly halls set up in small apartments, to some of the world’s most advanced manufacturers.
Clearly, you don’t want to work with a supplier that can’t even spell RoHS, REACH or LVD.
Next. Labeling Requirements.
Your supplier doesn’t know anything about label requirements in your market. Make sure that you provide them with compliant and ready-made label files.
In essence, a product test is just one part of a long chain of tasks. It’s indeed a critical part of the process, but far from everything.
I know it’s a complicated and outright confusing topic, so I’ll give you a checklist to work with.
Basic Compliance Checklist
- Supplier: Can they prove that they have the capability to manufacture products in compliance with at least one EU or US standard?
- Product Standards: Look up which standards apply to your product (or hire a consultant).
- Substance Regulations: Look up which chemical and/or heavy metal restrictions apply in your market.
- Document Requirements: Which documents can be self issued? Which documents must be issued by a third party? How long do you need to maintain the file?
- Labeling Requirements: CE marking? Made in China? Look up how your product must be labeled, and its packaging.
- Testing Requirements: Is third party testing mandatory? If not, consider it as the only way to be sure.
Learn more about ComplianceGate.com
Selling Jeans on Amazon.com or exporting milk powder to China? Fredrik’s team helps you get in touch with product compliance agencies and consultants – specialized in your product and market.
Go to www.compliancegate.com today, to submit an enquiry online. It’s free, and Fredrik and his team will get back to you within 24 hours.