Every once in a while I get to spoil a party which should be a part of every lobbyists job description. Just when it seems that everyone at some orchestrated event is fully in agreement, someone needs to be the one who ruins the good karma and says But
And so it was a few days ago at a grand 200+ person Washington luncheon on the Transatlantic Economic Council, which everyone in the know now calls the TEC (as in Tech). Business and association representatives from both sides of the ocean were there as part of ongoing discussions to address regulatory barriers to trade. Daniel Price, White House Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, was there as the speaker, and the organizers had kindly left at all seats a new U.S. Chamber of Commerce-Business Europe (the Chambers continental counterpart federation) booklet listing bulls-eye targets.
I nearly choked on my rubber chicken. For there within was the following troubling section espousing Suppliers Declaration of Conformity for Electrical Products, and effectively dismissing third-party certification as an unnecessary expense:
Turns out that a Chamber press release also came out that day saying Chamber Report Shows Benefits to Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation."
Its not a new issue for us. Brussels interest in eliminating our Occupational Health and Safety Administrations Nationally-Recognized Testing Laboratory program and its attendant third-party testing requirements dates back at least a decade to when the Electrical Safety Annex to the U.S.-EU Mutual Recognition Agreement was agreed upon over NEMAs objections and was subsequently withdrawn due to fundamental differences between the North American and European systems. Nor is the information technology industrys interest in giving SDOC some kind of official status here in the U.S. anything new; that sector hopes developing economies will adopt SDOC once they see the U.S. has it when the reality may be that those governments might first and foremost see our moves to make it easier to access the U.S. market without certification less as reason to reform themselves than as an opportunity to sell more to the United States!
NEMA has also been well aware of the latest move by the European Commission and the IT industry (in the U.S. and Europe) to get the certification issue on the TEC agenda. In fact, for some reason Brussels has actually made this its #1 priority issue, meaning it doesnt want to take up other matters, such as its flawed chemicals directive and refusal to implement the WTO ITA Agreement, until certification is discussed. (Better to show the Yanks as inflexible on something so as to steal the thunder from accusations of Euro-inflexibility on more immediate, pressing stuff?)
Nevertheless, from the beginning we have been in regular touch with officials thoughout the U.S. government, who have consistently indicated that, while they are willing to discuss all this in the TEC, the Europeans have yet to make a convincing technical argument. Indeed, the only concession Washington seems to be considering is to reopen a Federal Register comment period from two years ago, to which NEMA responded at that time, on a similar IT industry proposal. (See our 2006 response.)
We have also been talking with the U.S. Chamber, which has taken a lot of interest in the TEC and had assured us that it was working to get the two negotiating governments past the certification issue and on to other matters. In practice, this made the appearance of those booklets on the luncheon tables an even bigger shock.
But I was polite and waited my turn during the Q&A. Then, holding the booklet up, I stressed that U.S. electrical equipment manufacturers had not been consulted about it and do not agree with what it says about electrical products. The U.S. system based on third-party certification, has been ensuring public safety for more than a hundred years, well before OSHA (which Brussels likes to demonize) was even created. The American public and Congress would be surprised to learn that a move away from third-party is even being discussed. Moreover, most Europeans would probably be surprised to learn that the CE mark they see everywhere is actually not third-party, but SDOC. In short, think twice before you mess with something that works.
Price responded appropriately, indicating that the USG is well aware of our views, and that this is one of the issues to be addressed during the upcoming May 13 cabinet-level TEC meeting in Brussels. In other words, nothing to publicly offend the Europeans in attendance, but certainly also no commitment to actually change existing U.S. practices.
NEMAs struggle on this continues. Evan Gaddis has contacted Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue (202-463-5300, firstname.lastname@example.org) to express our strong displeasure. We have also been in touch with associations and testing groups that generally share our perspective, and have called on NEMA members to consider contacting the Chamber directly themselves. We also have a sample letter for doing so.