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Product Durability and Planned Obsolescence Key Area of Action for European Parliament

Members of the European Parliament are increasing their efforts to ensure product durability as a key area of action for the EU. This change in pace is reflected in the recent publication of two key documents, both of which offer valuable insights into the policies that the European Parliament will push the EU to pursue.

First, a draft report entitled “A longer lifetime for products: benefits for consumers and companies” was published on 22 December 2016 by the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). Second, a complementary draft opinion addressing the same topic was published on 30 January 2017 by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI).

Both documents feature a number of areas of further action that will feed into the European Parliament’s position on the lifetime of products. As this position could play an important role in dictating what legislative proposals the Commission will decide to put forward in the future, Hong Kong traders of a wide variety of goods may wish to pay close attention to these developments and the contents of each document.

In respect of IMCO’s draft report, written by rapporteur (chief draftsperson) Pascal Durand, seven key areas of action are considered. The first of these calls on the Commission to incentivise companies to develop and manufacture robust and durable high-quality products. Specifically, the draft report calls on the Commission to establish minimum criteria for each product category and to lay down standards in conjunction with the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC). Rewards for the most compliant manufacturers and support for companies developing modular designs that are easy to dismantle and have interchangeable parts are also proposed.

Another key area of activity concerns promoting the reparability of products, particularly through the development of a “right to product reparability”. This right would include measures such as: (i) the standardisation of spare parts; (ii) ensuring that parts indispensable to the function of a product are always replaceable; (iii) extending the obligation to provide maintenance and repair guides at the time of purchase; (iv) pooling of repair information through the creation of a digital platform; and (v) ensuring that guarantees prioritise the repair of the product over its replacement, whenever practicable.

Further measures aimed at promoting the reparability of products include requiring companies to supply essential spare parts at a reasonable price and within a reasonable time frame, as well as developing a harmonised labelling system that would inform the customer of whether spare parts are available and for how long. Safeguarding the right to go to an independent repairer by, for instance, banning schemes that prevent repairs from being performed by anyone other than approved firms is another proposed measure.

The IMCO draft report suggests that ensuring better information for consumers is an additional key area of action in promoting product durability. Among the measures listed is the promotion of a European label stating the product’s durability, ecodesign features, as well as reparability and upgradeability in line with technical progress. The draft report further proposes mandatory labelling to indicate a product’s expected useful life.

Another key focus of IMCO’s draft report is putting a stop to planned obsolescence. The report notes that the suspected existence of such a phenomenon has destroyed consumer confidence and may have even dissuaded customers from buying more expensive, better quality products.

The draft report therefore calls on the Commission to develop a definition of “planned obsolescence”, for hardware and software, with a view to banning products whose lifespan has been deliberately shortened. Other measures include greater protection for whistle-blowers and the setting of standards for the minimum lifespan for software, as well as minimum periods for the availability of security updates.

To improve consumer confidence, the draft report emphasises the need to strengthen the right to the legal guarantee of conformity. Hong Kong traders will already be aware of the existence of this right. It requires sellers of consumer goods within the EU to guarantee the conformity of said goods under contract, for a period of two years after the delivery of the goods.

Going further, the draft report suggests that the legal guarantee of conformity could be extended beyond the current two-year minimum for certain families of energy-using products on the basis of the studies carried out on product life cycle as part of the ecodesign process. The report foresees a minimum five-year period for large household appliances.

Measures to allow consumers to benefit more easily from their guarantees, such as simplifying the means of showing proof of purchase and ensuring consumers are specifically informed of the guarantee in the sales contract, are also put forward.

In response to IMCO’s draft report, ENVI published a draft opinion requesting that IMCO incorporate a further seven suggestions into the final report. Among those seven suggestions, Christel Schaldemose, the opinion’s rapporteur, placed emphasis on the importance of promoting the EU Ecolabel to improve product lifetimes and consumer understanding of product durability.

She also stressed that a balance must be struck between durability and growth so that increasingly resource-efficient products do not encourage short product lifetimes or the premature disposal of products. In the draft opinion, there is also emphasis placed on the fact that the factors affecting a product’s durability and reparability are determined at the design phases, implying that measures should be focused in that regard.

In addition, ENVI’s opinion calls on the Commission to review the Batteries Directive (2006/66/EC) with a view to introducing an obligation on product manufacturers to design products in such a way that replacement of their batteries is possible.

The ENVI committee is expected to vote on its draft recommendation in mid-April, in advance of the adoption of IMCO’s position on the matter, which is expected to take place soon after.

For further information, please see the IMCO draft report and the ENVI draft opinion.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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