MEPs back plans to boost intra-EU trade

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Trade within the EU received a fresh boost in Parliament this week (18-22 February) with the approval of simplified customs procedures and new rules aimed at reinforcing the “mutual recognition” of national quality standards on goods marketed within the EU.

The aim of the modernised Customs Code, approved by MEPs on 19 February, is to help exporters save both time and money by simplifying today’s overly-complex customs rules and replacing piles of paperwork with electronic procedures. 

Thanks to the introduction of a centralised electronic clearance system, exporters will be able to pay all their customs duties at the place where they are established, irrespective of the member state with which goods are being traded. All the necessary customs and sanitary controls will also be performed in one single place at the same time. 

The aim is to cut bureaucratic costs for businesses and preserve jobs, in line with the EU’s Better Regulation agenda (see our LinksDossier). 

Along the same lines, MEPs are also set to approve an extensive legislative package on the free movement of goods on 21 February, including regulations on “mutual recognition”, market surveillance and product labelling. 

The package was introduced by the Commission last year after it emerged that numerous member states are blocking imports of specific products from other EU states on the basis that they do not meet particular national standards. 

This runs counter to the historic Community principle of “mutual recognition” – whereby products accepted in one country should be accepted in all other member states. 

“Member states have come up with an array of protectionist measures to prevent the free entry of goods to their territory,” explained Finnish MEP Alexander Stubb, who was in charge of steering the legislation through Parliament, during a debate on 19 February. 

The problem affects roughly one quarter of intra-EU trade, worth €1,500 billion. Quality and safety standards are already harmonised for the rest of the market. But the Commission estimates that the bad application of mutual recognition rules costs the Union around €150 million per year in lost trading opportunities. 

It cites numerous examples of rules frustrating companies trying to benefit from the single market – from one member state’s refusal to allow imports of bicycles with battery-driven lights on the basis that dynamo-powered lamps are more reliable, to another’s requirements for expensive additional testing of the chemical reactions of clothes when exposed to body sweat and saliva. 

Under new rules, which should apply as of 2009, companies wanting to export to another member state would no longer be required to carry out all these costly tests to prove that their products comply with the destination country’s rules and standards. 

Instead, national authorities will bear the cost of demonstrating that a product is unsafe if they wish to remove it from their market. 

According to Stubb, small and medium-sized enterprises should benefit most from the new system.

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