INTERVIEW-EU urges China Olympic crackdown on fake goods

BRUSSELS, April 17 (Reuters) - The European Union's consumer chief will urge China next week to step up its border controls during the Beijing Olympics to stop unsafe and counterfeit goods flooding the EU market.

Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva -- who travels to Beijing on Monday -- warned Europeans attending the Games in August of the dangers of bringing suspect products into the 27-member bloc, which could mean "hefty fines" for offenders.

"One reason I will go to China is to put political pressure on the Chinese to step up their controls ahead of the Olympics," Kuneva told Reuters in an interview.

The World Customs Organisation said in January it will crack down on fans returning from the Games with unofficial merchandise, counterfeit or dangerous goods, notably at airports and ports in Europe and the United States.

"I will be reminding the Chinese authorities of their own responsibilities at their airports, borders and ports. The first responsibility is for them to prevent these goods from leaving China," Kuneva said.

Over 80 percent of all the world's counterfeit or unsafe products, such as toys, jewellery, clothing and electronic goods, come from China.

Kuneva, who will take part in next week's EU-China summit in Beijing, said she shared the concerns of customs officials that sport's biggest event could be used as a diversion by organised criminals to smuggle large quantities of fake goods into Europe.

Kuneva said d that 52 percent of the products notified in 2007 under the EU's rapid alert system for non-food dangerous products -- known as RAPEX -- came from China, up from 49 percent in the previous year.


She said consumers needed to be aware of the pitfalls of buying illegal products and the possible consequences, such as injury, death, financial penalties or criminal convictions.

"It is not just about unsafe toys which cause injury or death, but counterfeit goods are about exploiting intellectual property rights, tax evasion and usually organised crime," she said.

"These organised criminals are exploiting labour and people, so people should think twice about where the product comes from. I would advise to buy on the high street and not on the back streets."

"Bringing these goods into the EU, whether by gangs or by individuals, is illegal and can lead to hefty fines or jail," Kuneva added.

China has faced the wrath of EU and U.S. lawmakers who have called for a trade ban over the recall of millions of unsafe toys last year and health concerns over other Chinese-made products such as seafood and toothpaste.

"This can be partly explained by the high number of products imported into the EU from China and the intensified focus of market surveillance authorities on Chinese products following the summer of recalls last year," Kuneva said.

"It is clear that while we have made real progress with China, there is a lot more to be done. But I believe that the Chinese government has realized the importance of product safety and of protecting the 'Made in China' brand." (Editing by Giles Elgood) ("Countdown to Beijing Olympics" blog at