EC's New Product Standard to Bring America Opportunity

Article excerpt

At first glance, the European Community's plan to become a single market by 1992 appears to limit the United States' representation in setting EC product standards. However, after carefully examining the issues, it appears that standardized European certification and testing requirements will lend themselves to greater opportunities for U.S. companies.

One objective in creating a single market is to improve regional research and technological development. Specifically, the European Community is trying to standardize certification and testing requirements throughout Europe so each country has easy access to other countries' goods. U.S. testing and certification organizations hope to participate in setting standards at the discussion level and to prevent the community from retaining 12 separate but common votes in international standards-setting organizations. They also want to preserve the subcontracting of product-testing between U.S. and European laboratories, which allows U.S. companies doing business in Europe to avoid retesting their products there and vice versa.

Essential to the formation of a single market are EC directives, which establish requirements that provide the framework for developing and accepting product-testing and certification standards. They are designed to remove physical, technical and fiscal barriers to trade, including border check points and tax differences. The community has identified more than 500 directives needed for market unification and has already approved more than 200. New directives are in place or are expected to be set for fire protection equipment, pressure vessels, construction products, personal protective equipment, machine safety devices, measuring instruments, gas appliances, lifting and loading equipment, toys, medicinal goods, high-tech products and food.

One directive that is being closely watched by the loss prevention industry is the construction products directive, which includes products permanently incorporated into buildings and other civil engineering projects. It essentially addresses six areas: mechanical resistance and stability; fire safety; hygiene, health and the environment; safety in use; noise protection; and energy economy and heat retention.

Still undecided are the actual product standards, or regulations, under the directive. During the transition period, national technical specifications that already comply with the essential requirements are acceptable. The private sector will have to choose between developing new specifications based on a European technical specification or using existing international standards.

Setting Product Standards

Businesses worldwide look to international bodies-the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) -manufacturers' Declaration of Conformity conditions and independent third party labs to set standards for testing and certification. Because Europe did not have a common certification process or unified testing standards, safety and environmental restrictions on manufacturing varied from country to country. To eliminate these differences, the EC today depends on two key administering bodies for European standards: the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC).

The EC proposes using new standards for products made and sold within Europe. It also recommends adopting a single community mark to be used alongside third party marks for certified products. The mark could be used only by organizations that conform to what the community refers to as its "essential requirements" for a specific product-a phrase that is subject to interpretation.

Many businesses outside Europe are urging CEN and CENELEC to adopt existing ISO and IEC standards. These businesses argue that instituting new standards will restrict worldwide product availability, delivery and use, add to the cost of products through additional fees for retesting and delay product development. …