Global Economics

EU to Tackle Internal Trade Barriers


Brussels plans to force member states to drop extra conditions for imports within the union, which, it figures, cost the bloc about $200 billion in trade

The European Commission is set to introduce a set of proposals aimed at forcing member states to drop their extra national requirements on goods imported from other EU countries, which Brussels says is hindering trade within the union.

In a document - seen by EUobserver - to be unveiled by industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen on Wednesday (13 February), the EU executive argues that both national and common European rules constitute barriers to the bloc's internal market for goods and should be changed.

The national technical requirements on goods which are not harmonised at EU level result in extra administrative controls and tests that some companies, especially small firms, cannot afford so they prefer not to operate beyond their home markets.

The commission's figures suggest the EU is losing about €150 billion in trade due to these obstacles.

The new draft directive proposes a bolstering of the so-called mutual recognition principle stating that a product made in line with rules in one member state can be marketed in another one without extra conditions.

If a country still decides to refuse market access or require modifications of a product from another EU state, it "has to set out in detail the precise reasons for its refusal. It has the burden of proof that the non-authorisation of a product in the country concerned is necessary."

The move is likely to spark concerns in some European quarters as it raises similar questions to a recent bitter debate about the services bill which was also based on the idea that a service provided according to rules in one country should be good enough for other EU states.

In a bid to make it simpler for companies to find out about national technical requirements for products they want to sell in a country other than their own, the commission proposes that all member states set up one or several special contact points to provide such information.

The bill applies to "any industrially manufactured product or agricultural product, including fish products," and to any member state decision that would lead to a ban or withdrawal of a product because of extra national measures.

BURDENSOME EU RULES

Apart from national rules, EU legislation also comes under fire in the paper for being inconsistent and containing unclear wording.

"Different definitions apply to the same product while other fundamental notions are not defined at all," states the commission's paper, adding that the new draft will streamline the various conformity assessment procedures of products applied across the EU so as to avoid overlaps and cut down red tape.

The other proposed measure from the same package aims to clarify and better protect the CE [Communaute Europeenne] marking which was established to ensure that consumers can purchase safe products - made in line with all EU rules.

Brussels argues that a number of products bearing the mark do not in fact comply with the European legislation which means they could harm citizens or create competitive advantage for non-compliant goods produced at lower cost.

The EU executive suggests the CE mark should be registered as a collective mark which would "allow public authorities to take rapid and efficient action against abuses."

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