UK government introduces new digital labelling for imports and expands CE mark extension

Thu 25 Jan 2024
Posted by: Richard Cree
Trade News

The UK government has announced it will introduce new legislation to allow for digital labelling of imports to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses.

Digital labelling will allow businesses to put all relevant regulatory or manufacturing information online, rather than having to print it on products, thus saving time and money.

The move follows the Product Safety Review consultation, an extensive business engagement exercise which sought the opinion of leading industry trade bodies and individual businesses on ways to cut costs, while benefitting consumers and ensuring the regulatory system remains agile. Industry had been consistently calling for digital labelling as part of that consultation.

The voluntary option to use digital labelling means businesses will be able to apply the UKCA marking, manufacturer details and importer details digitally.

Easing the regulatory burden

Business and trade minister, Kevin Hollinrake, said of the new approach:

“What we’re announcing today will not only ease business burdens and [reduce] costs but will enable them to spend time growing their companies and creating jobs.

“We’ve worked closely with multiple sectors to create policy that works for them, and this is another step in the right direction to back British businesses.”

TechUK’s director of markets, Matthew Evans, welcomed the new digital labelling scheme:

“We strongly support the government’s decision to allow the voluntary use of e-labelling, in line with our key recommendations during the UK’s product compliance framework review.

“It represents a modern and progressive approach by DBT and will undoubtedly cut compliance costs, foster innovation and lessen environmental impact. It will also align the UK with major trading partners such as the US, China, Japan and South Korea, improving trading relationships.”

Ilona Kawka, digital customs and trade expert at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), welcomed the move, saying it represents a modern and progressive approach by DBT and will undoubtedly cut compliance costs, foster innovation and lessen environmental impact. It will also align the UK with major trading partners. She added:

"This innovative approach is driven by worldwide digital transformation trends and shows the UK's  dedication to delivering on innovation and sustainability goals. The decision to implement e-labelling, which follows the lead of countries such as the US, South Korea and Singapore, shows a commitment to modernising trade and consumer information systems.

"By shifting to e-labelling, the UK is reducing environmental impact, simplifying regulatory compliance and making it easier to bring products to the market once they prove compliant in other markets. This will also improve access for consumers to product information. It shows the UK's ability to adapt quickly to new technology, and hopefully the UK can act as a model for other countries adopting digital solutions for trade."

More categories to keep using CE mark

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) also confirmed it would extend the indefinite use of the EU’s CE mark to a further three product categories, having last summer announced it would extend its use within the UK indefinitely for the 18 categories under its remit.

Following feedback from industry, DBT is continuing CE recognition for eco-design, civil explosives and, in most circumstances, restriction of hazardous substances (in electrical equipment).

The new rules do not cover medical devices, construction products, marine equipment, rail products, cableways, transportable pressure equipment or drones. The full list of regulations covered by the announcement can be found here.

Suzanne Alecrim, customs and trade specialist at IOE&IT, says the addition of the extra three regulations by other government departments responsible for product safety apart from DBT means further regulated sectors will benefit from the indefinite use of CE marking.

On the fast track

DBT has also announced a new fast-track provision to allow manufacturers to place products on the GB market if they meet the EU essential requirements and have been conformity assessed by an EU-recognised body.

Manufacturers will need to use the UKCA marking and draw up a UK declaration of conformity, listing compliance with the relevant EU legislation. This means that where products fall within multiple regulations, a mixture of both UKCA and CE conformity assessment procedures can be used.

The aim is to provide businesses with certainty over the long term should the UK mandate UKCA for some product categories in the future. 

Alecrim says industry has welcomed government’s engagement on the CE mark as well as the digital labelling and fast track process:

"They provide improvements to facilitate the movement of regulated goods across the GB border to ensure complex supply chains can continue to import critical components from overseas manufacturers."

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, said of the announcements:

“The addition of further regulated sectors that will benefit from the indefinite recognition of current EU requirements including the use of CE marking, is a welcome move that manufactures who develop and sell products in these areas will welcome and support.

“The added introduction of a ‘fast track’ process for products covered by multiple regulations, new permanent arrangements for labelling flexibility and an option for digital labelling, will all work together to help safeguard the competitiveness of manufacturers and aid the UK as a destination for investment.”