FOREIGN AGRICULTURAL SERVICE
|The European Union (EU) comprises 27
Member countries : France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg,
Ireland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria,
Sweden, Finland, Cyprus, Malta, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. Making up the world’s largest
multi-nation trading bloc, EU Member States accept the entire body of EU
laws and obligations associated with the treaties and agreements to which
the EU is a party.
Originally created as a customs union, the EU slowly is becoming a single market and harmonizing legislation between the 25 Member States is a lengthy process. Imported products must meet existing Member State requirements in cases where EU regulatory harmonization is not yet complete.
EU legislation is made up of Directives and Regulations which must be implemented at the Member State level. Directives define the result that must be achieved but leave to each Member State the choice of form and methods to transpose the directive into national laws (usually within 2-3 years after adoption). Regulations are binding in their entirety and automatically enter into force on a set date in all Member States. Amendments to existing EU legislation are usually published in new and separate Directives and Regulations.
The EU has followed a dual approach in harmonizing food laws: "horizontal" legislation that covers aspects which are common to all foodstuffs (such as additives, labeling and hygiene, etc.) and "vertical" legislation on specific products (e.g., cocoa and chocolate products, sugars, honey, fruit juices, fruit jams, etc.). Still under discussion are legislative initiatives for issues such as maximum levels for vitamins an minerals and certain pesticide residues.
Exporters should be aware that there may also be some variation among Member States in applying EU harmonized legislation: this may be due to variations in the transitional period needed to adjust to EU rules; there may be temporary waivers or exemptions; in certain cases there may be room for interpretation of EU harmonized legislation or certain aspects which are not regulated in detail at EU level may be handled differently in different Member States. Inspection fees, in registration fees and in the time required to evaluate dossiers on products may vary across Member States.
The Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards (FAIRS) reports offer a good overview of labeling and import requirements for food and agricultural products, food legislation and standards in the EU and the different Member States.