Product recalls are something that everyone needs to pay attention to. They can affect almost any type of product, including things such as motor vehicle parts, human food, pet food, toys and more. When warnings are not noticed, the result can range from a minor inconvenience to a major safety issue that can result in serious injury and death. Because product safety is a serious issue, it needs to be a priority in international trade.
During George W. Bush’s presidency, he oversaw at least two new laws that involved product safety. In 2007, he issued an executive order that established the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety. Under this distinction the lifecycle of a product would be considered when evaluating safety, not just the condition of the product when it was first presented.
Agencies Involved in Overseeing and Enforcing Product Safety Criteria
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was also signed into law in August by President George W. Bush. In January 2009, a guidance document on Good Importer Practices was drafted and focused on the cooperation of several government departments and agencies including;
- U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/ Food and Drug Administration
- U.S. Department of Commerce
- U.S, Environmental Protection Agency
- Office of the United States Trade Representative
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the
- U.S. Department of Transportation
But the responsibility of product safety went beyond U.S. borders as well. In 2013, Canada, United States, and Mexico made the Second North America Product Safety Summit Joint Statement in order to reiterate their commitment to setting a high standard of product safety for those across the world. The Summit was held in Ottawa, Canada and was attended by regulators representing Health Canada, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (U.S. CPSC), the Federal Consumer Protection Agency of Mexico (Profeco) and General Direction of Standards of Mexico (DGN). At the Summit, they shared knowledge and achievements, and made note of things that had been achieved since 2011, when the last summit had been held including the ability to share technical information via conference calls, the success of outreach campaigns they had worked on together to raise awareness about toy safety and poison prevention. They had also improved their efficiency in working together to issue bilateral and trilateral recalls which would cover two or three countries in a single recall.
Regulators focused on common interests if the three countries in order to protect each countries individual laws, and developed an updated Cooperation Engagement Framework that would cover the years between 2013-2017 that would focus on communication, outreach, and consumer education.
Another example of different agencies working together to assure safe products happened when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and CPSC met in May 2014 for a full day workshop at the National Product Safety Research Laboratory in Rockville, MD to discuss facilitation and trade enforcement by way of the Consumer Product & Mass Merchandising (CPMM) Center of Excellence and Expertise. CPMM Center director, Petrina Evans noted the importance of federal agencies working together. The CPSC also maximizes its efficiency by dedicating three center locations to different types of products. Consumer Products and Mass Merchandising is overseen in Atlanta, Apparel, Footwear and Textiles in monitored from San Francisco and the Los Angeles location watches over Electronics.
Responsibilities of Importers and Potential Consequences
Of course, the government can keep everything in check by themselves. Individuals and business owners need to do their part as well to assure that they are in compliance with regulations. Manufacturers and importers of general use products are required to comply with safety rules set by the CPSC, including product testing in a laboratory and certifying their general use product and obtaining a General Certificate of Conformity (GCC). When products are geared toward children, manufacturing and import rules are more strict, and testing facilities need to be approved by the CPSC. Failing to comply with the GCC requirement may lead to a civil penalty, criminal penalties, and/or asset forfeiture.
Manufacturers and importers also need to stay aware of potential defects in a product, whether it is part of their own process, or they discovered someone else’s error that could result in a hazard for consumers. The product might be substandard, have small pieces that are a choking hazard, or is something that is being looked at more closely as part of a lawsuit.
Safeguards Can Prevent Defective Products From Reaching Consumers
The way that the CPSC and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection goe about monitoring cargo in order to identify who might potentially be violating U.S. Safety rules is strategic and effective. May 2014, the report on CPSC Port surveillance revealed that in the Fiscal Year 2013 12.5 million units of products that fell short of CPSC criteria were prevented from getting into the hands of consumers, which included 600 product shipments. The vast majority if the shipments, 550, that were stopped by investigators were part of the 2.1 million units of children’s products. But the CPSC isn’t out to shoot down shipments. They aim for efficiency as well. A targeting system called Risk Assessment Methodology (RAM) is designed no only to identify potentially risky shipments, but to see which shipments and suppliers consistently trade without issue, so that that portion of the cargo is processed smoothly.