GUANGZHOU, CHINA — Europe's largest plastics and rubber machinery trade group, Euromap, is lobbying governments there to get tougher on imported machinery that the group says doesn't meet safety standards, expanding on an existing Italian program that has focused its attention on imported Chinese plastics equipment.
Frankfurt, Germany-based Euromap is joining with trade associations representing four other large European equipment industries in construction, agriculture, machine tools and materials handling, which could give the effort some extra political weight with European politicians.
The call from the five groups does not focus on machinery from any particular country, and a Euromap leader said in an interview at the Chinaplas trade show in Guangzhou in late May that the effort is not specific to China.
But the growing Chinese plastics machinery industry and its exports to Europe make China a big part of the debate.
If successful, the lobbying campaign could lead to increased scrutiny of imported machines across much of Europe, rather than just Italy, which already does detailed inspections.
"We see and observe in the market machines not applying to the same standardization, [coming] to Europe from abroad — that is a fact," said Thorsten Kühmann, Euromap secretary general.
A statement from the five associations late last year praised the European Commission for making the topic a priority in its industrial policy, but Kühmann said the plastics machinery industry is still waiting for more specific action from governments.
"[European Commission members] fully underline that this is an important issue, but the execution is still lagging behind," said Kühmann, who is also managing director of the plastics and rubber machinery committee with the German national machinery trade group VDMA. "There is a difference between what they say and what they do."
The Italian program, which mainly focuses on Chinese machines, found that more than 90 percent of the imported equipment given detailed inspections at Italian ports in the last five years did not meet safety standards, said Mario Maggiani, general manager of the Italian plastics and rubber machinery trade group Assocomaplast of Assago, Italy.
He characterized the safety problems on imports as often "severe."
"We are not speaking of three or four non-compliances," he said. "We are speaking of 30 or 40 or 50. Just to give you an idea, you can easily arrive in the molding area with your hand, with a serious risk of injury."
He said the Italian industry is now pushing for the tougher inspections to go Europewide because it believes importers are avoiding Italian ports and sending machinery to other countries with less strict inspections. Once inside Europe, the machines are brought by truck into Italy.
The Italians inspected 100 machines in their ports in 2010 but that fell to about 30 last year, Maggiani said.
"They know the trick and they come through other ports," he said. "The idea is to grow from an Italian level to arrive at a European level and awareness of the problem.
"We want to make the European Parliament aware," Maggiani said. "In the European Union, people perfectly know the problems concerning toys, lights and so on coming from China, in terms of safety. But they are not aware of the problem of machinery in general coming from outside Europe."
A Euromap statement from late 2011 said that during the Italian customs inspections, it found that Chinese exporters often do not properly use the declarations from third-party agencies regarding whether their equipment meets European safety standards, particularly EN 201:1997 for injection molding machines.
The statement attributed the problem to a lack of knowledge of European regulations on the part of Chinese companies and the branch offices of European certification organizations.
"It harms both the health and safety of workers and the competitiveness of Italian and other European manufacturers that abide in full to the applicable EU legislation and its costly … procedures," Euromap said.
Two Chinese injection press manufacturers interviewed at Chinaplas said they understood the European industry's moves.
Simon Ho, director of marketing and international trade at Hong Kong-based Cosmos Machinery Ltd., said his company was the first in China to adopt that country's safety standards for molding machines, which it helped to write.
The company puts a premium on safety, and has higher costs as a result, he said.
"I think it is good," Ho said of the push for more detailed inspections. "For the Italian government, the German government, it is good to put more attention to this, not only for injection molding machines."
Helmar Franz, chief strategy officer at Ningbo-based Haitian International Holdings Ltd., China's largest injection molding machine maker, said his company had machinery delayed in Italian ports several years ago but no problems were found. Since then, Haitian has not had any difficulties, he said.
The company hosted a team of Italian inspectors at its factories in China to show its manufacturing processes.
"We respect it; for us it is no problem," he said. "Our machines should comply. … It is not our target to bypass these regulations."
While the European groups are lobbying for tougher government action, they also stressed that they are part of a cooperative effort with plastics and rubber machinery groups around the world to write the first global safety standards for machinery.
They see that effort, which includes the Chinese, as another way to improve safety of equipment.
"If we accept to work with the same standards, it means it will be much easier to manufacture [safe machines] at a worldwide level," Maggiani said.
The first ISO work group on injection molding machinery standards met in Germany in mid-May, and included representatives from China, the U.S., Japan and several European countries, with the second planned for December with more countries, including Brazil, Canada, India and Luxembourg, Assocomaplast said.
One Chinese machinery executive speaking anonymously at Chinaplas said the Europeans may be raising safety issues because they are not cost-competitive, a so-called non-tariff trade barrier.
But Kühmann rejected that, saying safety is the concern.
"There is a trend towards having non-tariff trade barriers — yes, we observe this as well — but these standards … they are not new," he said. "They have not been erected in the last two years. It is an ongoing process over many years and many of those standards have been in place for many years."
Asked what he thought the next step in the process would be, Kühmann suggested it's not clear if the European Commission will in fact take strong action.
"I can't really tell and speak for the commission, but I don't see what kind of action they will really undertake," he said. "They have it on their list. … Now let's see what they can deliver."