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EC promises to tackle F-gas compliance

EUROPE: The European Commission insists it is taking measures to ensure the correct implementation of the F-gas regulation (517/2014) and is doing everything it can to stop illegal refrigerant imports.

In a written reply to a question posed by Portuguese MEP João Ferreira, the Commission’s executive vice-president Frans Timmermans states that the Commission is aware of illegal imports of HFCs “circumventing the EU quota system” and the prohibition on importing non-refillable containers. 

However, his claims that “no reliable data on such illegal activities exists”, have been disputed by both the refrigerant manufacturers and the environmental group, the EIA.

The written question submitted by Ferreira in January sought answers to concerns raised by SMEs about the implementation of the F-gas regulation and a lack of monitoring and enforcement.

In his response, Timmermans maintains that the Commission “is taking measures to ensure the correct implementation of the regulation and, in cooperation with the relevant competent authorities of the member states and industry, is doing everything it can to tackle the issue of illegal imports”. 

He insisted that SMEs in Europe could assist in this by not buying HFCs at “suspiciously low” prices.

“The Commission has already accommodated requests from SMEs that reduce the burden and ease their compliance with the regulation,” Frans Timmermans said. He pointed to the recently introduced possibility for companies to pool their acquisitions of quota authorisations for importing HFC equipment and promised better and simpler enforcement by member states in the future.”

The Commission is developing an IT system under the “EU Single Window environment for customs” initiative and presenting a legislative proposal in 2020 to this end. 

Timmermans also insisted that ensuring better control and efficiency “will be a priority” of the Commission’s current review of the F-gas regulation. 

Clare Perry, ocean and climate campaign leader at the EIA, said that, while the very nature of smuggling HFCs precludes collecting 100% accurate data, “There is compelling information, from both industry and NGOs like EIA, that demonstrate ongoing high levels of illegal trade.”

The EIA’s analysis of the illegal trade in last year’s Doors Wide Open report, suggested as much as 16.3 MtCO2e of HFCs were illegally placed on the market in 2018, equivalent to more than 16% of the quota. Previous reports by the refrigerant manufacturers put the illegal import figure at around 22.5MtCO2e. 

And, despite recent successful and well-publicised customs seizures, Perry said “There is a serious lack of follow through in terms of holding smugglers to account and applying penalties that will deter future illegal trade.”

The EFCTC, which represents the five largest refrigerant manufacturers, agreed.

“The possibility of a fine is simply factored in as a business cost by criminal organisations and is only marginal compared to the profits that can be made. We therefore need higher fines and more effective penalties,” said the EFCTC.

The EFCTC said it also believed that the Commission statement that “no reliable data on such illegal activities exists” does not tell the full story. 

“Official data of HFC imports are by their nature “official” and therefore do not include smuggled products,” said the EFCTC. “Anecdotal evidence from industry and reports from NGO EIA suggest that the problem is larger than the official data suggest.”

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