Alongside the rapid growth of China’s e-commerce market, Chinese consumers are becoming more sophisticated and have increasingly higher expectations of product safety: they expect imported and foreign branded products to fully comply with both Chinese regulations and overseas standards.
Consumers are also becoming more aware of their rights, says Dr Martina Gerst, Market Access Advisor at the EU SME Centre, and are demanding to be informed about the authenticity of products purchased via e-commerce, regardless of whether these products are domestically produced or imported from abroad.
The EU is China’s biggest source of imports, and between the two blocs they currently trade more than EUR 1 billion a day. For manufacturers on both sides this means that compliance with respective local or regional regulations and mandatory standards (the so-called [GuoBiao] GB standards) is essential. No compliance, no sales.
So, what implications do European companies face when planning to export to China?
The regulatory world – a brief intro
In a nutshell, market access for products and services to China is generally not free. For many product categories, government approval is required before goods can be imported – this is the first big difference European companies have to face when thinking of exporting to China. These approvals come in various forms, such as licences, certifications, registrations, marks and even individual approval of shipments. They are issued by the government itself or by appointed bodies acting on behalf of the government. All of these approvals have one thing in common: they will be regularly checked at the borders or, in the case of China domestic production, by inspection authorities.
The scale and thoroughness of inspections relating to product safety probably exceed those of any other economy worldwide. As such, it is of utmost importance that any organisation planning to export consumer goods to China becomes familiar with the Chinese regulatory framework, standards and conformity assessment environment.
Regarding product safety, in order to be compliant with China’s solid but complex regulatory environment, a company needs to get familiar with the web of product safety laws, regulations for supervision and administration of products, ministerial orders and, last but not least, compulsory and voluntary standards, instructions and other rules.
In general, there are three ‘must-know’ government organisations related to product safety in China that European companies should be aware of.
The highest government unit responsible for implementing the product safety law is the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), a ministry under direct supervision of the State Council. The AQSIQ has an overarching function to regulate, coordinate and supervise the respective activities across all ministries.
Directly under the AQSIQ, two vice-ministerial government agencies are worth noting – the Standardisation Administration of China (SAC) and the Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA). Both bodies have regulatory power and control over all nationwide activities in their respective areas.
At the local level (provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities), regional governments are in charge of implementing and administering the activities of the AQSIQ. Most provinces have two authorities in place for performing this task: the Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision (BQTS), and the China Inspection and Quality Service Bureau (CIQ). These provincial-level institutions are also in charge of the practical operations of all market surveillance activities in China.
One important element of China’s product safety system that is of high relevance to EU companies, is the China Compulsory Certification (CCC). The CCC is particularly important for consumer products, since it covers many types of electrical and electronic household appliances.
The basics of CCC
The system consists of a compulsory certification, issued by a government-appointed certification body, and a mark, controlled by a government agency. The product categories that require CCC certification are listed in the CCC catalogue. For products not listed in the catalogue, it is not possible to obtain CCC certification. The CCC system is not a self-declaration and is not comparable with Europe’s CE-marking.
The CCC system unifies the certification process for many products and ensures that the same rules apply both for imported and domestically manufactured products. Current requirements of the CCC system are basically built on a one-size-fits-all system, not always related to the level of risk inherent to the products.
Core elements of the CCC consist mainly of four steps: watertight technical documentation already provided in the application, shipping of samples, type testing and factory inspection.
If all goes well during the certification process the CCC certificate will ideally be issued after a year. It is valid for five years, under the condition that regulations for maintenance of the product certificate are met.
Step-by-step approach to compliance
Children’s toys are one European product that is currently very popular with Chinese parents and are frequently purchased online. They are therefore very closely monitored for CCC compliance.
For a toy manufacturer, it should ensure that its products comply with quality, safety, labelling and the CCC certification.
A systematic approach is required to find a proper path through the maze of Chinese compliance regulations. Such an approach should cover not only the products themselves, but also the most common components and relevant spare parts if required. Depending on the responses to the questions below, it may be advisable to source some of the components in China rather than subjecting existing components to a complicated and costly certification and licensing process:
- Does the product fall into the catalogue for prohibited or restricted goods?
- Does the product fall under the scope of the Law of Product Quality?
- Does any other compulsory certification, licensing or labelling scheme apply?
- Which compulsory and voluntary standards apply to my product?
- Is any voluntary certification and labelling scheme available?
- Is the product listed in the product catalogue for import and export controls?
- Is the product documentation compliant with the applicable regulations?
The CCC catalogue lists six toy categories to be certified and to carry the CCC logo before the toy can be sold in China:
- Electrical toys
- Plastic toys
- Metal toys
- Toys that can be launched
- Child carriers
For most toys, the most important mandatory standard is GB 6675-2014, defining the safety requirements. The standard consists of four parts addressing basic safety concerns, and the physical, flammability and chemical safety.
Electrical toys, for example, will also have to meet the additional mandatory standard GB 19865-2005 for electrical toy safety.
Key recommendations to consider when navigating the system:
- Any importer of goods into China must be familiar with the key elements of the system.
- Any importer must be able to properly document the safety of its products.
- Pay attention to the details of documentation, and ensure that instructions are in Chinese.
- Never ship a product before all licences and certificates are secured.
- Be aware of the standards used in China, and the differences to the respective international or European standards.
- Compliance in the EU does not imply compliance in China.
In general, the system is very different from Europe and compulsory standards are the key to compliance. Compliance in Europe does not necessarily mean access in China, although many requirements are similar. The Chinese system demands expertise on the ground and time-to-market, and the costs involved are not negligible, even for products that are manufactured in small volumes. Last but not least, it should be taken into consideration that compliance and certification have an impact not only on the manufacturer and the importer but also on the entire supply chain.
Many companies have paid a high price for ignoring both the importance that China pays to product safety and the effectiveness of its enforcement mechanisms. The AQSIQ regularly posts pictures on the Internet showing the destruction of imported consumer goods that have failed to meet Chinese safety regulations. For the companies involved, this has consequences beyond the financial losses incurred due to the confiscation of goods. They must also pay fines and deal with the additional costs of increased inspections for future exports to China.
The EU SME Centre in Beijing provides a comprehensive range of hands-on support services to European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), getting them ready to do business in China.
Our team of experts provides advice and support in four areas – business development, law, standards and conformity and human resources. Collaborating with external experts worldwide, the Centre converts valuable knowledge and experience into practical business tools and services easily accessible online. From first-line advice to in-depth technical solutions, we offer services through Knowledge Centre, Advice Centre, Training Centre, SME Advocacy Platform and Hot-Desks.
The Centre is funded by the European Union and implemented by a consortium of six partners – the China-Britain Business Council, the Benelux Chamber of Commerce, the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce, the French Chamber of Commerce in China, the EUROCHAMBRES, and the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
To learn more about the Centre, visit website www.eusmecentre.org.cn
 Wei, Daniela & Einhorn, Daniel, China’s Name-and-Shame TV Show Puts Household Brands on Edge, Bloomberg, 15th March, 2017, viewed 27th April, 2017, <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-14/china-s-name-and-shame-tv-show-puts-household-brands-in-hot-seat>
 China (2017), European Commission, last updated 4th April, 2017, viewed 16th May, 2017, <http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/china/>
 More details can be found on the Product Safety and Conformity Assessment for Consumer Products guideline, available on the EU SME Centre’s website which will be updated soon.
 For more details about China’s regulatory bodies across different sectors, see the ‘Who-is-who’ guideline on the Centre’s website.
 For more details about CCC and compliance, further information can be found in the Centre’s CCC and product conformity guidelines.