Most products imported from China to Australia and New Zealand are required to be in compliance with at least one AS/NZS product safety standard. Compliance is serious business. Importing products that violate the relevant product safety standard may result in a fine of up to $1.1 million. In this article, we explain how you can use online resources to determine which AS/NZS standard applies to your product, and how you ensure compliance when importing from China.
How to determine whether a product is regulated
Several product categories, ranging from bicycle helmets and sunglasses to children’s toys, are regulated by a set of mandatory product safety standards. While there are also voluntary standards, we focus on the mandatory standards in this article. The following product categories are regulated, by at least one safety standard, in Australia and New Zealand:
- Animals & agriculture
- Baby & nursery
- Boats & marine
- Clothing & accessories
- Fire & flammables
- Food & groceries
- Furniture, homewares & window furnishings
- Gas & electrical appliances
- Hardware & building materials
- Health & cosmetics
- Household chemicals
- Spas, pools & swimming
- Sports & recreation
- Tobacco & smoking accessories
- Vehicles & accessories
That’s about everything worthwhile importing. However, Australians (and Kiwis) are quite lucky in this regard. Apart from having nice beaches and abundant resources, you’ve also been blessed with fairly user friendly online database. Productsafety.gov.au provides up to date information on product safety standards and to which product a certain standard applies. Let’s look at the toys category and see what we find:
As you can see in the screen print above, most toys are regulated. However, different products are regulated by different product safety standards. Let’s find out which standard applies to Baby toys.
Now it’s getting a bit more tricky. The website states that “Baby toys refer to a broad category of items”, which is true. Our best advice to our Australian and New Zealand readers is to assume that product safety compliance is mandatory if your product somehow fits into a regulated category of products. However, we are yet to confirm which product safety standard our products must be in compliance with.
It’s crystal clear – Baby toys are required to be in compliance with Australian Standard AS/NZS ISO 8124.1:2002. As I mentioned, the Australian government has done a great job at informing domestic manufacturers and importing businesses about product safety standards. This might seem obvious, but I am yet to find anything in the EU or US that’s on par with this website. However, this is where the fun ends. It’s about getting a bit more tricky.
Most Chinese suppliers are not AS/NZS compliant!
When searching for “NS NZS” on Alibaba.com (in order to cover anything that is marketed as compliant with Australian product standards) I get a list of 90,781 products from 668 Chinese suppliers. That might seem like a lot, but considering that tens of millions of products are listed on Alibaba, it’s rather the opposite. As a comparison, searching for “RoHS” (EU standard) results in more than 44 million products from 21,000 suppliers. FCC? 12 million products from more than 7,500 suppliers.
What I’m saying is that very few Chinese manufacturers are marketing their products as compliant with Australian and NZ standards. There is a logic explanation to this. Compared to the EU and USA, Australia and New Zealand are fairly a small markets and therefore most Chinese manufacturers are not overly concerned with AU/NZS product standards. That being said, Australian and New Zealand businesses are somehow managing to import products from China for billion of dollars each year.
Australian standards are not that much different from those in Europe and America. If a supplier is able to comply with product standards in these places, chances are quite good that they’ll be able to comply with those in Australia and New Zealand. However, there’s still reason to act with caution. While EU and US certification standards are more well known among Chinese manufacturers, compliance shall not be taken for granted.
As a matter of fact, the compliance rate among exporting suppliers is less than 10% in most industries. Yet, a supplier that is not able to comply with EU and US standards is even less likely to comply with Australian and NZ product safety standards.
Ensuring compliance with Australian & NZ safety standards
There’s only one way to be sure whether a product is compliant or not – lab testing. However, there’s a few things to take into consideration. To begin with, the product sample being sent for lab testing shall have the very same product specifications as the product you intend to import from China. This includes materials, components, colors, functions and design. Changing a component or material on the final product may render the product non-compliant and is certain to turn your test report into an expensive piece of toilet paper. Thus, you have two options:
1.) Order a customized pre-production sample and send it for testing prior to placing an order (this sample MUST be an exact replica of the final product)
2.) Pick one batch sample (after mass production) and submit it for testing.
Our suggestions is that you do both. You’ll find yourself in hot water if it turns out that an entire batch of products fails testing. By sending a pre-production sample for compliance testing, before paying your supplier, you’ve got quite good chances of avoiding such a disastrous scenario.
The following companies are offering product testing according to Australian & NZ safety standards:
Noncompliance and penalties
What will happen in case the authorities encounters an importer selling non-compliant products in Australia? A slap on the wrist and a 100 dollar fine? Add a few zeros to that figure and you’re getting closer. This is what Productsafety.gov.au states:
“A supplier may be found guilty of a criminal offense if they fail to:
- comply with a mandatory safety standard. The maximum fine is $220 000 for an individual or $1.1 million for a body corporate (civil penalties for the same amounts also apply)
- nominate the standard they are compliant with if required to do so by a consumer protection agency. The maximum fine is $4400 for an individual or $22 000 for a body corporate.”
Does this mean that the Australian government fines Chinese suppliers for non-compliance? No. In this context, a “supplier” is referring to the company or individual selling products in Australia. Whether that company is a manufacturer or an importer, buying products from a foreign manufacturer, makes no difference in the eyes of the law. As an importer, you are fully responsible to ensure that your products are in full compliance with Australian laws and regulations. This responsibility cannot be shifted to a Chinese supplier.
Yet, you may be able to sue your Chinese manufacturer if you have a signed and stamped contract, stating that the product shall be compliant with a certain standard. However, that’s easier said than done. While you’ll be entangled in an expensive legal battle in China, you still have to refund buyers and pay your penalties back home. Few small businesses can afford such a blow.
It’s a risky and complicated process. However, we can screen your supplier and verify if their compliance documents are authentic and still valid. Click here for more information about Supplier Screenings.
- Determine whether your product is regulated or not
- Confirm which NS/NZS standard applies to your product
- Try to find a supplier that claims to be compliant with the relevant NS/NZS product standard. If you cannot find any such supplier, look for those that are compliant with a corresponding EU and/or US product standard
- Send a pre-production sample for lab testing before you pay your supplier
- Send a batch sample for lab testing before your cargo is shipped to Australia or New Zealand
Do you need help to ensure compliance with all mandatory safety standards?
We know how hard it can be to get a grip on product safety standards, labeling, documents and lab testing. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid crippling fines and forced product recalls – we created the Starter Package:
a. An overview of product safety standards in the United States, Europe, Australia & more
b. Mandatory document sample files
c. Product labeling template files
d. Checklists that guide you step-by-step through the entire compliance process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.