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Ecodesign Plans Obliging Manufacturers to Make Products Easily Repairable Are Opposed by Some Member States

A European Commission consultation, which closed on 4 June 2018, brought to light that the “take-make-use-throw away” ideology coupled with “built-in obsolescence”, an allegedly widespread practice by manufacturers whereby the lifespan of a product is shortened in order to increase sales, are costing consumers money, while at the same time depleting the world of its natural resources.

In fact, Hong Kong traders might like to know that a Eurobarometer survey (from 2014 but which is thought to still hold true) found that over 70% of EU citizens would rather have their goods repaired than buy new ones. However, in practice, consumers ultimately replace or discard products in light of the poor level of service apparently being provided by manufacturers and the fact that repairs are often more costly than replacement.

In view of the above and a reported 50% increase in the consumption of natural resources in Europe, the Commission developed its Ecodesign Working Plan for 2016-2019. In an effort to promote the transition towards a more circular economy, the Plan contains a series of suggested measures covering the whole lifecycle of products in order to improve resource efficiency in the EU.

In an effort to combat the above-mentioned issues, in essence, the EU is attempting to respond to calls for a more circular economy by aiming to broaden the existing ecodesign rules (currently contained in Directive 2009/125/EC and several delegated acts product-by-product). The design of products is central to this question, and influential voices involved in the legislative process (especially the European Parliament) have called for measures to ensure that consumers can enjoy durable, high-quality products that can be repaired.

As part of the transition to a circular economy, and on behalf of consumers, the institutions have demanded product-specific requirements such as durability, minimum lifespan of products, reparability, availability of spare parts, repair manuals and disassembly. Products, it is contended, should no longer be designed in a way which neglects the circularity aspect, but rather which makes use of secondary market operations such as repair, re-use and retrofitting.

The ecodesign proposals which the Commission is being urged to formulate would require manufacturers to make sure that products can be disassembled and reassembled. It is also foreseen that there will be mandatory provisions for the availability of spare parts, documents and tools necessary for repair, and designs that allow easy access to the parts prone to breaking, as well as provisions towards more cost-effective recycling.

In light of these demands, should they materialise into binding legal instruments at EU level, Hong Kong traders of electronics and other energy-related products would have to adapt their products in order to comply. Manufacturers including those exporting from Hong Kong may, in consequence, face additional costs.

The European Parliament has been calling for a timely adoption of new ecodesign rules especially since early 2018, but even well before that. However, Hong Kong traders might like to know that although the EU Member States were expected to vote on 28 September 2018 on whether to adopt such standards before the end of the year, it has been reported that the ecodesign rules are currently being opposed by Germany, Italy and the UK, while France and Spain are completely disengaged or have adopted a neutral stance.

Such opposition could be detrimental to the movement at large, considering that for the proposals to pass, a qualified majority is needed, which requires at least 16 Member States to vote favourably, representing at least 65% of the EU population. Due to the significant weight their votes will carry, it is possible that any proposals may be dropped from the agenda should the positions of Germany, Italy and the UK remain unchallenged.

Furthermore, CoolProducts, a coalition of European NGOs working to ensure that ecodesign and energy labelling rules are adopted and implemented, also reported on 1 October 2018 that the current European Commission might drop the ecodesign plans mentioned above. As a result, the final decision on the adoption of ecodesign rules might be left to the next European Commission, which will not be appointed and in place until late 2019.

The reported opposition of certain Member States will no doubt buy time for traders of electronics and other energy-related products on the EU market since they currently do not need to comply with the more stringent ecodesign standards. However, traders might like to preemptively take into account increased eco-friendly measures when designing products for the European market, as it is certainly possible for the proposals to be adopted at a later date.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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