The October 15 "U.S.-EU High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum" was meant to be a cheery affair, but there were cracks in the façade that couldn't be covered over. Yes, cast against the larger goal of addressing barriers to Transatlantic trade, regulators on either side of the ocean are now not only more aware of each other, they can and do communicate with each other regularly.
But the various business, consumer and legislative dialogues haven't really yielded much – the real stabs at cooperation mostly limited to the respective executive branch levels, with everyone else clamoring for more information on what's going on.In this respect, the senior officials from the Enterprise Directorate in Brussels and Office of Management and Budget in Washington breezily praised each other while discussing their plans for the next six months, which will include a joint study on the role of international standards in regulation plus four case studies on topics yet to be determined… And I became a little nervous. After all, "international standards" has become an extremely loaded term, the bread-and-butter of a worldwide EU-sponsored effort to foist European standards (which somehow become "international" ones through the miracle of each continental country still having a national vote) and regulations on the rest of the world.
Does OMB know it might be playing into Brussels' hands?I was the enfant terrible at one of these meetings last spring, making an angry comment that broke up the artificial harmony, but this time I didn't need to make a peep:
- How will you choose the topics for those four case studies? the moderator asked, to which "yet-to-be-determined" was the reply. (We wouldn't mind the EU's directive on chemicals, among several others.)
- If you are going to be talking about standards, you should check with us to make sure you use the correct vocabulary and frame the issues appropriately, correctly noted the representative from the American National Standards Institute.
- What is it with this electrical safety issue, asked someone from a U.S. testing lab. We have a financial crisis as well as various food and toy safety issues that go back to a lack of adequate regulation, and here's life being given to an EU request for electrical equipment supplier's declaration of conformity in the U.S. This is all about politics, not public safety. In response, the OMB official noted that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration request for public comment on the whole matter is about to come out (see http://www.osha.gov/doc/Nat_Recogn_Test_Lab_Sup_Declar_Conform.html ), providing an opportunity for parties to express their joy or displeasure.
- But, another US-based testing lab rep piled on, despite there really not being much support for electrical SDOC in this country, you've given a measure of credence to the EU on this by even agreeing to talk about it – the system here isn't broken. (A decade ago Washington ignored the concerns of U.S. stakeholders and concluded a problematic electrical safety mutual recognition agreement that has since been withdrawn.) Now we learn that you may be doing the same for their whole "international standards" thing.
I couldn't have orchestrated it any better if I had tried, and – while there's much more work ahead on this front — took the metro back with a big smile.