The conference “International trade principles: how to ensure better enforcement?” dealt with vital concerns regarding the European Union’s enforcement of international trade rules to tackle unfair trade practices affecting market access for EU businesses. Commission official Signe Ratso affirmed that the European ceramics industry is a “global player” and “export champion”. Despite this fact, the industry faces an increasing trend in barriers to trade, including high tariffs, burdensome certification and counterfeiting, as evidenced by the testimony of Steelite International CEO, Kevin Oakes. Lawyer and Professor Mr Bourgeois stressed that companies could make more use of the Trade Barriers Regulation (TBR) and urged the Commission to be “a little bit more daring and a little less cautious in handling the TBR.”
The second conference “Environmental performance tools: how do ceramic Product Category Rules (PCR) contribute to a better environment?” revealed the importance of standardization, harmonized PCR and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) as useful tools for the European construction industry. The speakers discussed the benefits of a cradle-to-grave Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach which helps architects determine the environmental impact of a product. “There is still a lot to do”, according to moderator Gerhard Koch. “The harmonization of existing environmental performance tools would significantly reduce the burden placed on manufacturers of construction products.”
The 14th Plenary Meeting of the EPCF covered topics currently being discussed in the Parliament, namely the future EU climate and energy policy, the Product Safety and Market Surveillance Package and the competitiveness of SMEs. MEPs, Commission officials and industry representatives discussed these significant questions and what they mean for the ceramic industry.
While considering the forthcoming 2030 EU climate and energy framework Dr. Heimo Scheuch, Cerame-Unie Vice-President, stressed that it is essential to reconcile sustainability and competitiveness and take into account the international context in which the industry operates.
The second panel presented an opportunity for participants to discuss the Product Safety and Market Surveillance Package and the way forward on critical aspects such as origin marking.
The third panel, which took place in the context of the SME week, the situation for SMEs in Europe was examined. It was revealed that despite existing initiatives, SMEs in the ceramic industry continue to be weighed down by difficult access to finance, complex legislation and administrative burdens.
The EPCF, chaired by MEPs Harbour and Cashman, was concluded with a discussion on the future of the Forum after the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
The day’s events culminated in memorable keynotes by eminent speakers at the EPCF cocktail reception hosted by Cerame-Unie. Commissioner Oettinger discussed the 2020 targets and the need to create realistic and pragmatic new targets for 2030, taking into consideration the reality faced by energy-intensive industries in Europe. He affirmed that the responsibility to address climate change should not only be borne by Europe, as it only represents 10% of global CO2 emissions. Finally, he stated that if Europe wants to solve its budget and labour market problems, it needs more – not less – manufacturing industry. Mr. Beyrer offered an insight into the high energy prices in the EU and the challenges this presents to businesses. He asserted the need to find the right balance between energy and climate policy, thereby favoring industrial competitiveness and climate goals on an equal footing. Both speakers agreed on the need to diversify energy supply sources in the EU, which means leaving the shale gas option open. Cerame-Unie President Alain Delcourt wrapped up the evening and stressed the vital importance of the EU’s forthcoming decisions on climate and energy for the ceramic industry.
As the main policy event for Europe’s ceramics manufacturers, the Ceramic Days present a key occasion for representatives from all ceramic sectors, experts and policymakers to exchange ideas at sector and public events. The next Ceramic Days will take place on 3 and 4 December 2014.