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Pressure Increases for Adoption of Ecodesign Strategy Covering Variety of Consumer Products

Recently, at a meeting of the Council of the European Union, Member States’ Ministers expressed concern over the European Commission’s failure to meet the timetable indicated in the annex to the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy regarding ecodesign, and to produce the final report of the Ecodesign Working Plan 2015-2017.

The EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy establishes a programme of action to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. The ecodesign working plan was one of fifty non-legislative measures contained in the annex.

Hong Kong traders may recall that the Ecodesign Directive is intended to eventually work alongside the Commission’s broader Circular Economy Package, which was published in December 2015, with its broader goals of promoting sustainable and recyclable product designs.

At its meeting, the Council of the EU adopted conclusions on the action plan for a circular economy including provisions relating to the delay of the Ecodesign Working Plan 2015-2017.

Hong Kong companies may recall the final Ecodesign Working Plan was originally expected in July 2015 and it was anticipated that the Commission would adopt the Ecodesign Working Plan 2015-2017 shortly after September 2015. In March 2016, there was some speculation that the delay was to avoid an anti-EU press attack in the UK, in preparation for Brexit. However, on Monday 18 April 2016, speaking at the meeting of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament, European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella confirmed that the Commission was preparing the new Ecodesign Working Plan and that the Circular Economy Package was “on track”.

On 19 April 2016, the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD), the trade body representing Europe’s waste management firms, issued a statement calling for the Commission’s leadership on the issue of ecodesign, which is, they suggested, central to the development of a circular economy.

The Ecodesign Directive’s legal framework has been implemented through product-specific regulations, which set out minimum mandatory requirements for the energy efficiency of specific products. These help to prevent the creation of trade barriers, improve product quality and increase protection of the environment.

Products include household appliances, information and communication technologies equipment and power transformers. The Directive’s scope covers more and more products as the Directive is updated and given effect via subsequent implementing regulations. Lists of various ecodesign and energy labelling regulations have been disseminated. Lists of all voluntary agreements concerning ecodesign are also available online.

Additionally, the Ecodesign Directive has established the Consultation Forum where stakeholders can communicate their issues directly. The stakeholders include representatives of EU countries, representatives of industry, and additionally representatives from civil society (see: the list of members). Observers from candidate and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries may also join, as well as organisations holding a legitimate interest in the matter.

The European Commission recently held a policy debate on the implementation of the ecodesign framework, at which Mr Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the European Commission, pointed out that ecodesign has already contributed to meeting half of the energy efficiency target and a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target that the EU set itself to achieve by 2020.

Furthermore, Mr Timmermans added that ecodesign will help to realise the EU’s ambitious targets for 2030 and would enable it to comply with the commitments it made at Paris COP21 in November 2015. Mr Timmermans also added that ecodesign was a key element for the circular economy.

Mr Timmermans supported the continuation of the programme for EU ecodesign regulation on two conditions, namely, (1) that the choice of products included would be the result of a political rather than a bureaucratic decision, and (2) that this choice would be made on the basis of objective criteria proving that regulating the products in question would have significant added value.

Hong Kong traders should know that the European Commission will, in the autumn of 2016, review the choice of products whose ecodesign could be regulated, in the form of a package containing all the products concerned.

As support for ecodesign is high, it is unsurprising that EU Member State ministers agreed to encourage the Commission to follow up on these actions without further delay. Furthermore, the Council has urged the Commission to include appropriate measures to improve the durability, reparability and reusability of materials as well as the recyclability of products in accordance with the EU ecodesign regulations, and other legislation as appropriate, before 2020. Any such “improvements” and measures will no doubt have an impact on Hong Kong companies manufacturing and exporting the goods concerned to the EU.

The EU ministers also invited the Commission to evaluate for which product groups, other than energy-related, it would be possible to take better into account resource efficiency and their impact on the environment and human health, building on experiences from the Ecodesign Directive, before the end of 2018.

These were among other robust measures the ministers have urged the Commission to present, such as the need to reinforce controls to prevent the illegal transport of waste, and measures to reduce discharge of macro- and micro-sized plastic debris in the marine environment.

Environmental organisations and charities welcomed the Council’s conclusions on the circular economy action plan but were concerned about the Council’s vague wording in relation to the mere invitation to review the EU ecodesign regulations.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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