Electronic Design

RoHS Is In Effect, But What About China?

China has taken a different approach to the European Union's Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) legislation in a number of critical areas. These include the date the restrictions become effective, labeling and testing requirements, and exemptions.

The broad scope of the directive drafted by China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII), known as the Management Method for Controlling Pollution Caused by Electronic Information Products (or "China RoHS"), applies to all electronic products sold and imported within China. But it doesn't apply to products manufactured for export.

The directive, which mainly covers labeling and information disclosure, kicks in on March 1, 2007. A second document that will be published later will cover substance restrictions and compulsory pre-market testing and certification. It's expected to be narrower in scope than the first directive.

Unlike the EU, China requires all electronic products to be labeled. But only products listed in a catalog that China plans to publish will be subject to substance restrictions and testing—under what the MII calls premarket China Compulsory Certification (CCC). The MII also has indicated that the products listed in the catalog may have different implementation dates.

The catalog may be published before March 1, 2007. But Jean-Philippe Brisson, a lawyer in the environmental law group of Allen & Overy, says a "warmup" period has been built into China RoHS to give manufacturers, distributors, and other organizations a chance to better get with the program.

Brisson says that manufacturers, vendors, and importers of electronic products should clear their noncompliant inventory and be able to comply with labeling requirements before March 7, 2007. Unfortunately, he also says there already have been some differences in the interpretation of these and other rules in some of China's provinces, including the actual "effective date" of the RoHS catalog.

One of the logos is a marking indicating toxic substance content. Another logo is for packaging material content. A third is the safe/environmental use period, which some people are calling the environmental protection use period (see the figure). This logo indicates that the product contains toxic substances as well as the period in years that environmental protection is required.

Brisson says the environmental use period is subject to calculation. He also suggests this number could change for certain products. Meanwhile, these markings apply to all electronic products and must be in Chinese.

Also unlike the EU RoHS, China RoHS calls for mandatory pre-market testing and certification of all electronic products. The MII will require all products covered in its RoHS regulations to be tested in China before they can receive the government's compliance certification. Currently, China is believed to have 18 certified testing facilities. But it's trying to expand that to accommodate RoHS requirements.

There's one problem, says Brenda Pineau, a program manager and China specialist with Tetra Tech, an environmental engineering and consulting firm. The level of testing China RoHS will require is still unclear. Still another question is how the Chinese government will enforce its RoHS rules.

Brisson says penalties could include fines, the withdrawal of operating licenses within China, a shutdown of production or distribution facilities, and possibly even criminal sanctions. What's important, he says, is that China creates a level playing field and consistency in its enforcement and interpretation of its own rules.

The bottom line for now, Brisson says, is that if you manufacture a product in Europe and sell it in China, it has to comply with China RoHS. If you manufacture a product in China and sell it in China, it also must comply with China RoHS. But if you manufacture a product in China and ship it to the EU, even though it's in China's RoHS catalog, it doesn't have to comply with China RoHS because it isn't intended for the Chinese market.

"These are important distinctions," notes Brisson, and they should be well understood by anyone producing or selling products in China or importing products into China.

Resources for unofficial English translation of China RoHS regulations include Measures for Administration of the Pollution Control of Electronic Information Products at http://english.mofcom.gov.cn/article/policyrelease/domesticpolicy/200605/20060502132549.html and www.aeanet.org/governmentaffairs/gabl_ChinaRoHSpage0905.asp

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