Export requirements – mandatory and voluntary

In order to export your products to the EU market, you need to know what requirements apply and how to meet them. We guide you through the mandatory requirements relevant to your business.

Technical requirements are rules that define the characteristics of a product such as dimension, labelling, packaging, level of quality, conformity assessment procedures etcetera. The term can also cover production methods and processes. Technical requirements are necessary to protect the public from health and safety risks related to the manufacturing or use of products.

These requirements are largely harmonised, meaning that when set out in EU legislation, they apply homogeneously across all member states. Hence, if your products meet the EU-requirements they are valid in all EU countries.

Examples of harmonised mandatory requirements

Health control of foodstuffs of non-animal origin

Imports of foodstuffs of non-animal origin into the EU must comply with requirements designed to prevent risks to public health and protect consumer interests. These requirements concern, for example, traceability, hygiene and maximum levels of certain contaminants or pesticides in food. This area is covered by EU legislation, hence mandatory for all members states.

To show that your products do not contain residue levels of contaminants or pesticides that exceed the maximum levels, you need to get laboratory tests. All fresh fruits and vegetables need to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate to be allowed onto the EU market. However, certain plants are exempted from this obligation such as pineapples, coconuts, durians, bananas and dates.

Complete list of exempted products on the EUR-Lex website

Health control of foodstuffs of animal origin

Imports of foodstuffs of animal origin into the EU must comply with additional requirements designed to prevent risks to public health, and to protect consumer interests that are specific to products of animal origin.

There are two main requirements concerning the import of animal products to the EU and Sweden:

Approved country – products of animal origin can only be imported to Sweden from countries that have been approved and listed by the EU. The country of export must have control procedures in place to check the capacity of establishments to produce in a way that satisfies the EU standards.

Approved establishment – the products have to come from an establishment registered by the competent authority in the exporting country and approved by the EU. The establishments and their products must fulfil requirements on traceability, hygiene and maximum levels of certain contaminants, pesticides and veterinary medicines in food.
Complete list of third country establishments on the EU website

Products of animal origin exported to the EU must be accompanied by a common health entry document issued by the relevant national authority in the exporting country.

Chemical composition and labelling of textile products

Textile products must only contain chemical substances that are authorised in Europe. These substances have been agreed at EU level and are the same in all member states.

In addition, there are certain labelling requirements for textile products to be placed on the EU and Swedish market. A label or mark must clearly show the quantity of the materials. In Sweden, labels must be in Swedish and separate from all other information. Other EU countries may have similar language requirements. There are also requirements for care labels that must accompany the products and be clearly visible for the consumers. For products not intended for sale to end consumers, the labelling or marking can be replaced by accompanying commercial documents.

For exporters looking to export to more than one EU country, this is positive as they do not need to adapt their products to the specifications of different countries.

Non-harmonised mandatory technical requirements

However, not all technical requirements have been harmonised. For certain products, countries are free to set out national requirements.

For example, the regulatory framework for materials in contact with foods, such as plastic bottles, is not fully harmonised. A plastic bottle that meets the requirements of one country in terms of chemical substances, bisphenol-A for example, may not meet the requirements of another country. This is often the case where countries have not yet agreed on common acceptable levels.
Harmonised requirements on the Access2Markets website (European commission)

Voluntary requirements

As previously mentioned the number of private standards and certification programmes for a wide range of products, notably agricultural and food products, has grown rapidly. Alongside mandatory requirements, exports are also confronted with additional requirements. Importers from EU countries demand that the products they are buying are certified against private standards.

These specific standards vary in form and are often ethically motivated. Consumers care about sustainability and the demand for environmentally friendly products have risen sharply. Another issue carrying importance with  consumers is the working conditions for employees. Against this backdrop importers are keen to buy products that meet consumer demand in terms of sustainability. Importers look for organic or fair trade certifications, to mention the most commonly sought-after.

Organic certification

In the EU consumers are increasingly interested in organic products. This is particularly true for agricultural and food products but also for textile and other industrial products. The demand is growing and importers are more and more asking producers to supply them with organically certified products.

In the EU consumers are increasingly interested in organic agricultural and food products.

When seeking organic certification for your products, keep in mind that different markets demand different certifications. The most commonly used certification in the EU differs from the one in the United States. 
EU organic on the European Commission website

The EU has rules setting out the principles for organic farming and which products can be marketed as organic, including imported products from non-EU countries.

There are a number of EU regulations concerning different areas of organic production. They are all based on a number of key principles, such as, prohibition of the use of GMOs, forbidding the use of ionising radiation, limiting the use of artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, prohibiting the use of hormones and restricting the use of antibiotics.

The EU organic logo can only be used on products that have been certified as organic by an authorised control agency or body.

The EU organic logo can only be used on products that have been certified as organic by an authorised control agency or body. This logo attests that products meet strict conditions on how they must be produced, processed, transported and stored. 

As of 1 January 2021, the rules on organic farming will be modified as a new regulation enters into force in the EU. New categories of products will be allowed to be certified as organic and new organic production methods are encouraged.

In addition, rules concerning imports of organic products from non-European countries are also modified. In principle, as of 1 January 2021, it is no longer possible to produce according to standards considered equivalent to the EU rules. All products marked as organic must be produced and certified according to the EU organic rules.

Furthermore, private associations have developed their own organic standards, based in part on national standards. These private organic standards are often country-specific and some are well known and trusted by customers. Read more: New European rules regarding organic production and certification (PDF)

The KRAV label is well-known and used on about 80 percent of organic products sold in Sweden.

In Sweden, for example, there are two private associations that have developed their own standards and labels: KRAV and Demeter. KRAV standards are adapted to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, IFOAM, standards. They cover EU legislation and have - in some areas a wider scope – for example in terms of climate protection, animal welfare, social accountability and health. Additionally, KRAV standards define rules for areas not covered by EU regulation such as fisheries, slaughter and certification of restaurants. The KRAV label is well-known in Sweden and used on about 80 percent of organic products sold in Sweden.
IFOAM standards on the OFOAM website

This co-existence of different organic standards, both national and private, can present a challenge for exporters. Hence, it is important that you discuss with potential buyers which organic standards they look for in a product.

Certification process

Certification is the procedure whereby producers can show that their products have been produced in compliance with a particular standard. In the organic sector, certification is commonly done through third-party certification by an independent certification body.

A large number of certification bodies offer organic certification services worldwide. It is important to check which certification bodies are active in your country. Buyers in the EU may have special recommendations or expectations regarding certification bodies.

To obtain the EU organic logo your products must be certified by a certification body approved by the EU.

Private standards

In recent years, international trade has been increasingly influenced by the rapid development of private standards. Private standards are standards – or requirements that products or production methods must meet – developed by private entities such as companies, non-governmental organisations or federations of companies. These standards may vary in scope and objectives that range from environmental conservation, ensuring food safety, protection of social and human rights, to promoting good agricultural and manufacturing practices.

Certain private standards are designed to facilitate and demonstrate compliance with public regulations. In the food sector, many standards have been developed to verify that legal obligations laid down in food safety regulations are complied with. This could for example be traceability, use of chemicals or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for food safety.

There are tools to help companies navigate the rather complex world of private standards.

Social and environmental standards, on the other hand, often reflect the growing consumer awareness of social and environmental conditions of production. There are many such standards.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) has developed tools to help companies navigate this rather complex world of private standards: a sustainability map gives interactive information on standards for environmental protection, labour rights, economic development, quality and food safety as well as business ethics. You can search and identify the standards applicable to your products in the country you wish to export to.
The sustainability map on the International Trade Centre website

As for all standards, sustainability standards are voluntary. However, these standards can also be de facto mandatory; they have become so common that any player wanting to enter the EU market, needs to follow suit.

Before you decide to seek certification for a standard, which creates export opportunities but can involve a high cost, you need to identify the requested standards in your target markets. Discuss with potential importers which standards they would like your products to fulfil.

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