This piece was originally published in the October 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Joel Solis, Senior Conformity Assessment Manager, NEMA
On February 16, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed Congress on the protection of American consumers, reporting that they faced a new problem: prosperity. He stated that American businesses responded with “matchless ingenuity and enterprise to produce the widest range of quality products ever offered for sale.”
While his aim was to implore Congress to look at national safety legislation and determine how it could be streamlined, the President expounded on the virtues of the free competitive market to resolve most problems through private enterprise.
When it comes to electrical products serving the U.S. electrical infrastructure, the electroindustry has engaged in self-regulation through voluntary efforts to develop electrotechnical safety Standards. Much of that work is undertaken by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Its Standards panels are made up of representatives from authorities having public safety responsibilities, electrical shock experts, electrical fire experts, casualty experts, and electrical manufacturers. The result is that the electrical industry continues to meet the challenges of satisfying ever-evolving consumer needs and maintain electrical safety through voluntary collaboration.
The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 lifted tariffs on the majority of goods produced by the signatory nations. A free trade area, however, is not a common market. This meant that goods entering the trade area would have to comply with the country’s laws and technical regulations. Technical regulations are subject to commercial policy, which creates obstacles to trade by imposing additional costs on its trading partners in order to comply with mandatory Standards that differ or fail to address advances in technology or installation practices.
NEMA identified differing regulations and Standards as a problem and sought a solution. With likeminded industry sectors, it created the Council for Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standards of the Nations in the Americas (CANENA), which provides the means to extend the model of voluntary collaboration to counterparts in Canada and Mexico.
CANENA’s objective is to advance regional harmonization of electrotechnical product safety Standards for equipment intended for use in the North American–type distribution system by reducing technical barriers to trade caused by differing Standards, national conformity assessment services, and product installation criteria. NEMA Members recognize CANENA’s importance in facilitating market access through a transparent process of regional collaboration to achieve unprecedented market integration.
With more than 90 regionally harmonized electrotechnical safety Standards in place, it is remarkable how well the CANENA process relies on private enterprises to resolve technical problems in a free, competitive market.