Once upon a time, traders were traders. You find a product you think will do well, get it shipped over and start selling. Today, however, things are different.
Importers are responsible for ensuring that their products are fully compliant with all mandatory safety standards, labeling requirements, documentation requirements – and properly lab tested. Importing and selling non-compliant products is illegal, and can result in a forced recall, heavy fines or even persecution.
The stakes are high, to say the least.
In this article, Fredrik Gronkvist breaks down the compliance process into 5 steps.
About Fredrik Gronkvist
Fredrik Gronkvist is a Swedish Entrepreneur formerly based in Shanghai and now managing his business from Hong Kong. Through his company, Asiaimportal (HK) Limited, he operates Chinaimportal.com and ComplianceGate.com. The latter is a knowledge base with practical guides and online tools helping E-commerce companies ensure compliance with product regulations in the EU, USA, and Australia.
Step 1: Find out which regulations apply to your product
The first step of the process is to find out which product regulations apply to your products, in your export market. These are the things you need to keep track of:
- Product safety standards (e.g. EN 71 or ASTM F963)
- Chemicals and heavy metals regulations (e.g. REACH)
- Labeling requirements (e.g. CE marking)
- Documentation requirements (e.g. Declaration of Conformity)
- Laboratory testing requirements
Certain product regulations apply to all product categories. For example, in the United States, all consumer products must carry a country of origin label, such as ‘Made in China’ or ‘Made in Indonesia’.
- Country of Origin: Consumer products (USA)
- CE marking: Electronics, toys, helmets, sunglasses and many other (EU)
- Textiles labeling requirements
This is also the case with chemicals and heavy metals regulations, which applies to broadly all materials, rather than specific product groups.
Substance Regulations Examples
- REACH (EU)
- FHSA (USA)
- California Proposition 65 (California, USA)
However, some product regulations only apply to certain product categories.
Product Regulations/Standards Examples
- CPSIA: Children’s Products (USA)
- EN 71: Toys (EU)
- 21 CFR: Food Contact Products (USA)
- TB 117
- Low Voltage Directive: Electronics (EU)
Each of these regulations set their own unique requirements for general safety, labeling, and documentation. Further, more than one product regulation may apply to certain products:
Children’s wear sold in the United States must comply with the following.
- US textiles labeling requirements
- US country of origin labeling requirements
- Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA)
As such, compliance requires a comprehensive and deep understanding of all relevant regulations in your target market.
Where can I find information about product regulations?
Here are a few examples:
ComplianceGate.com: We are currently working on creating a free knowledge base covering regulations in the EU, USA, and Australia. Here’s one guide covering textiles.
Product testing companies: Companies such as QIMA and Intertek can often confirm relevant standards and regulations.
Are you an Amazon seller?
Amazon.com sometimes set requirements that exceed the legal requirements in the target market. For example, Amazon has in the past forced sellers of lithium battery devices in the United States to provide UL test reports – despite this not being a legal requirement.
In addition, they also require that sellers in certain categories can prove that the original manufacturer is ISO certified.
Therefore, Amazon sellers must confirm whether additional requirements apply on top of the legal requirements in the concerned market.
Step 2: Assess if your supplier’s capability
Manufacturers in China, and elsewhere in Asia, are not exactly compliance experts. At best, they can confirm if their products or materials can pass compliance testing for a certain standard or regulation, such as REACH.
That said, this is only as far as they go. Manufacturers are not compliance experts and should not be expected to assist with this process.
However, it’s still essential to request test reports to assess if their products have passed lab testing in the past. While you cannot use old test reports to prove that your products are compliant, they are still highly relevant in the sense that it indicates whether the supplier has the capability to make a compliant product or not.
In some industries, less than 10% of the manufacturers have that capability – meaning that the compliance assessment is absolutely essential when deciding which supplier to work with.
Step 3: Review product designs
Product compliance sometimes goes deeper than referring a certain standard in a purchase order. When manufacturing children’s products, electronics, and other ‘risk products’, it’s essential that compliance is ‘built into the design’ of the product.
- Electronics: Casing, BoM and wiring diagrams must be designed for compliance
- Children’s Products: Robust seams and no sharp edges
This is hardcore engineering and may require that you consult a professional.
Step 4: Create label files
You must create all relevant label files before you enter production. The label file must include all mandatory compliance marks (e.g. CE mark) and other information (e.g. Country of Origin).
- Type: Print or engraving
- Print position
The label file, including the information above, must be submitted to the supplier before they enter production.
Step 5: Laboratory testing
Third party lab testing is the only way to verify that a product is compliant with all relevant safety standards and regulations. That said, lab testing is actually not mandatory for most products – but there are a few very good reasons for why you should still get your product tested.
1. Confirm that your product is safe:
You will be held financially liable if someone is injured by your product. It’s therefore in your interest to verify that your product is safe and fully compliant – which requires a lab test.
2. Government authorities can still request a test report:
Regardless of whether lab testing is mandatory or not, your products must still be compliant. If the customs authorities or consumer product surveillance authorities for any reason request that you demonstrate compliance you’ll have to do so. In other words, you need a test report.
3. Market Operators:
New regulations are now forcing shipping companies, fulfillment centers, and online marketplaces to verify if the products they handle are compliant. Without a test report, Amazon can refuse your listings while a forwarder can refuse your shipment.
When should I get my product lab tested?
This depends very much on the product. When it comes to electronics, protective equipment or children’s products, it’s absolutely necessary to send the pre-production sample for lab testing. This is because you must ‘compliance proof’ the design before you enter mass production.
That said, some regulations, including the CPSIA, requires that testing is also done on the final product. In other words, samples that are randomly selected from the production run that will eventually enter the market – not only a pre-production sample.
Ideally, you do both. But lab testing is not exactly free.
How much does lab testing cost?
Lab testing can cost anything from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars. It all comes down to the complexity of the product. For the sake of reference I list a few cost examples below:
- Textile fabrics: $200 – $400
- Stainless steel watch: $500 – $700
- Electronic device: $1000+
- Food contact materials: $300 – $500
Important price factors
- Number of regulations applicable to your product
- Number of SKUs, materials, and colors
How to reduce your testing costs
- Reduce the number of SKUs, materials, and colors
- Don’t try to sell into too many countries at once as this multiplies the number of tests needed
Check the product labeling before shipment
If you’re working with a company such as Jing Sourcing you will likely get product quality inspected. It’s essential that you instruct your quality control partner to check the product labels and take photos to avoid labeling issues. Incorrect or missing labels is enough for the customs authorities or service providers to classify the product as non-compliant.