Summary Information on activities of   UN/ECE Working Party on Technical Harmonization and Standardization Policies (Working Party 6)   

provided by Mr. Serguei Kouzmine, Secretary to UN/ECE Working Party in May, 2001 and  updated by GTW Associates June, 2002

See also update August 2003 on UN/ECE Telecommunications Initiative

1.       The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations. Its member States, currently numbering 55, include not only western, central and eastern Europe but also Israel, the United States and Canada. For a region comprising several sub-regional economic groupings, the importance of approximating technical regulations is obvious. 

 2.       The UN/ECE Working Party on Technical Harmonization and Standardization Policies provides since more than 30 years a unique forum for debating and anticipating problems that might otherwise arise, with equal participation by all Governments concerned and by international, regional and national organizations and the private sector.

3.       It is a major concern of the Working Party to encourage the development, adoption and application of harmonized technical regulations and standards, as well as conformity assessment operations, in member States of the UN/ECE region. The Working Party sessions provide a possibility for national and international public authorities and standardization bodies, as well as business operators, to come together to identify obstacles and seek solutions to problems. The working party maintains a public web site at  http://www.unece.org/trade/tips/stdpol/index.htm

Major recently initiated activities of the Working Party:

4.       Discussions at UN/ECE and other major fora show that differences in standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures constitute one of the major obstacles to international trade at present. The Working Party is trying to find solutions to these problems through promotion of wider use of international standards and through elaborating of principles for harmonization of regulations and procedures.

5.       Thus, in 1998-1999 the UN/ECE made a survey of how major international standardizing organizations monitor national transposition of their standards. According to replies received, most of the organizations have no systems to monitor regularly the implementation of the prepared and adopted standards (and it concerns UN/ECE as well).

6.       This problem was brought to the attention of the UN/ECE member states at a workshop on implementation and use of international standards held in Geneva in May 1999. One of the proposals made at the workshop was that national organizations which are members of international and regional standardizing organizations and which vote for the adoption of concrete standards or recommendations should consider taking on obligations for providing information on whether (or to what extent) those adopted standards etc. are transposed and used in their countries. The program for this workshop is available at   http://www.unece.org/trade/tips/stdpol/docs/199912.pdf

7.       The summer (of 2001) this proposal was debated at the UN/ECE Committee for Trade, Industry and Enterprise Development with a suggestion to be adopted as a recommendation to UN/ECE member states. We believe that such obligations would show the level of commitment of national organizations and their members to the transposition of international standards as a tool for facilitating international trade and would be of practical help to companies which, for example,  often do not often know what international standards are used in a particular country

8.       Another example of UN/ECE activities concerns harmonization. In order to see how regulators could make a wider use of international standards an ad hoc Team of Specialists on STandardization And Regulatory Techniques (ASTART@ Team) was established in 1999. The work of the Team was intended to provide guidance for good regulatory practice and a mechanism for voluntary cooperation between regulatory authorities, standardizers and industry, so that legislation could make appropriate use of international standards.

9.       The “START Team” prepared a project which was tentatively called "International Model for implementing good regulatory practice in the preparation, adoption and application of technical regulations via the use of international standards".  The “Model” is intended to provide a set of voluntary principles and procedures for sectoral application which might be used by countries wishing to harmonize their technical regulations.

10.   The first draft of the “International Model” was presented at the November, 2000 session of the UN/ECE Working Party on Technical Harmonization and Standardization Policies (and also at the workshop organized on this occasion) held in Geneva  where it was decided to further elaborate this “Model”. See http://www.unece.org/trade/tips/docs/wp6-00-3e.doc  for information about the November, 2000 meetng

11.   The purpose of the November 2000 Workshop on the role of standards and technical regulations in international trade was to look into the current situation and the problems faced by business operators; problems due to differences in technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures in different markets. Representatives of international, regional and national standardization organizations, regulatory authorities, conformity assessment bodies, trade and industry operators presented their views on how, on the one hand, to ensure health, safety and environmental protection, and, on the other, how to minimize technical barriers to trade; they also expressed their views on the need for harmonizing regulatory objectives and the possibility of using international standards in this context. The results of the workshop including  "conclusions" is found in the report at  http://www.unece.org/trade/tips/stdpol/docs/wp6-00-20e.doc

12.  In February, 2001 Thomas Fischer, the Industry Cooperation on Standards and Conformity Assessment (ICSCA)  representative at the November 2000 workshop reported on the UN/ECE activity to the ICSCA VII participants in Singapore.  ICSCA VII passed the resolution below focusing on the portion of the November workshop conclusion found in Annex II in the document at :http://www.unece.org/trade/tips/stdpol/docs/wp6-00-20e.doc

Resolution 4.4  ICSCA VII Singapore February 2001

ICSCA thanks UN/ECE Working party 6 on Technical Harmonization and Standardization Policies for the opportunity to participate in its November 7 Workshop and plenary  discussion 6 & 8.  ICSCA  endorses the November  7 Workshop conclusion:

ICSCA VII like WP6 Calls on UN/ECE Governments and international organizations:

· to show their commitment to the facilitation of international trade by wider participation in international regulatory cooperation and international standardization and effective implementation of the results;
· to encourage effective coordination and cooperation between Governments and regulatory authorities and economic operators, and different international organizations and intergovernmental forums and to follow up on practical proposals on regulatory cooperation, in particular sectors/product areas;
· to involve, where appropriate, private-sector representatives in such activities thus promoting a public-private partnership approach.

ICSCA  urges WP 6 to adopt this approach in its further work on an "International Model for Implementing Good Regulatory Practice for the preparation adoption and application of technical regulations via the use of International Standards."

By including ICSCA and other representatives of the private sector in its work program, UN/ECE can leverage the considerable knowledge and resources  within the private sector. This will help UN/ECE WP6 to speed up the process, avoid duplication of work or competition with complementary efforts in other fora   and focus on only "value added" proposals with strong support, rationale and market relevance.

13.  The WP6 work program is  not without  controversy in United States policy circles  according to a May 2001 letter to US Department of Commerce Secretary Donald  Evans and Trade Representative Robert Zoelick, “this work is redundant to existing work and current obligations in the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee and could ultimately undermine these obligations and future work.

14.   On 12 July 2001,  the Executive Secretary   of UNECE wrote to the Secretary General of ITU informing ITU about the "International Model" and about an OECD study and suggesting to ITU to explore a   possibility of identifying an area where governments may see the need for technical harmonization (as a pilot project) and  if principles of the International Model   might be used in such regulatory cooperation. 

15.  The "International Model"  was formally discussed most recently at   The 11th Session of the    UN/ECE Working Party on Technical Harmonization and Standardization Policies (Working Party 6) October 29/31 in Geneva  The agenda for this meeting is available at  http://www.unece.org/trade/tips/docs/wp6-01-01e.doc  and the report of the meeting is available at   http://www.gtwassociates.com/alerts/Report-WP6-01-18.e.DOC

The US delegation noted their satisfaction with the voluntary character of the “Model” and at the same time voiced their concern that the “Model” might duplicate certain provisions of the WTO TBT agreement. It was further clarified that US regulations were  based on a legislative framework and that regulatory authorities prepared technical regulations on the basis of federal laws; thus making it difficult for them to agree à priori on  any new mechanisms or schemes as, for example, proposed in the “International Model”. 

After discussions at the session the  Working Party agreed :   

 (a)               that there was a clear market need and an interest from Governments in further reduction of trade barriers and facilitation of market access

(b)               that the elaborated “International Model” would contribute to the facilitation of market access by providing a voluntary framework for establishing sectoral agreements between interested member countries;

(c)               to request the secretariat to include the text of the “International Model” (TRADE/WP.6/2001/8, TRADE/WP.6/2001/8/Corr. 1, and TRADE/WP.6/2001/8/Add. 1) in the set of UNECE Recommendations on Standardization Policies and to publish it ;

(d)               to endorse the revised Terms of Reference of the START Team (TRADE/WP.6/2001/8/Add1, annex 2);

(e)               to call on the START Team to :

explore, as a follow up to a request from the CTIED (cf. ECE/TRADE 280, paragraph 64), with UNECE Subsidiary Bodies the possibilities of using the principles and concept of the “International Model” in their areas of competence with the goal of identifying potential pilot projects; and   assist with sectoral initiatives based on the “International Model”, as forthcoming from interested parties and as requested.

The model itself  as translated by  the secretariat into Recommendation L is available UNECE Recommendation “L”  AN INTERNATIONAL MODEL FOR TECHNICAL HARMONISATION BASED ON GOOD REGULATORY PRACTICE FOR THE PREPARATION, ADOPTION AND APPLICATION OF TECHNICAL REGULATIONS VIA THE USE OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS"

17. At the ICSCA VIII-2 meeting in Berlin February 27, 2002 Christer Arvius reported on the UN/ECE WP 6 activities and stated:

The work will now be concentrated on possible initiatives for establishing sectoral agreements under the Model.  Such initiatives will be open to countries/regions from UN Member States (i.e. even a wider membership than the WTO) with the UN/ECE secretariat being the focal point for future arrangements (as you know UN/ECE already has experience in operating global agreements such as those in the motor vehicle and transport of dangerous goods areas).

My message is therefore that a global mechanism now already exist for sectoral initiatives and that practical steps now could be taken to establish harmonization agreements when industry see a need for that and the governments are willing to make alignments of common regulatory objectives and make recourse to international standards.

On March 4, 2002 in Geneva there was  Informal expert meeting to explore possibilities of a sectoral initiative in the Telecom Area for the use of the UN/ECE International Model for Technical Harmonization. According to the conclusions of the meeting report

The meeting agreed that further work is needed to develop the initiative. Carriers need to be involved. The consumers’ acceptance needs to be considered. The needs of the developing countries should also be taken into account – but these have to be further scrutinised

In Spring (2002) representatives of UN/ECE  participated in a  meeting of the standardization agencies from CIS states (former Soviet Union).  and presented there  the WP.6 activities with the major focus on the "International Model" in its final form as an UNECE Recommendation. As a result of discussions on regulatory matters at their meeting, the CIS states decided to establish a group of experts (under the umbrella of their sub-regional organization) with a task to elaborate a strategy for harmonization of technical regulations among CIS states. And they will use the "Model" as a basis for such work. believe it is a very important development which might have very important implications for regulatory dialogue and cooperation not only for CIS but for the whole UNECE region.

16.   The UN/ECE will continue its work towards defining and encouraging predictable and supportive environment for business in the region. We are open and look forward to cooperation with interested governmental agencies, international and regional organizations, business associations and companies.

17. The most  meeting of WP6 was October 28-30 in Geneva.  A workshop on Marketplace Surveillance is on October 29 

 

For more information please contact:

Mr. Serguei Kouzmine

Secretary to UN/ECE Working Party on Technical Harmonization and Standardization Policies (Working Party 6), UN/Economic Commission for Europe, Palais des Nations, Office 433-1; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel. (41 22) 917 27 71, Fax (41 22) 917 04 79/917 00 37;

E-mail: serguei.kouzmine@unece.org

Internet: http://www.unece.org/trade/stdpol

GTW Associates also offers to be of service to any party interested in placing the UN/ECE activity in global context  gtw@gtwassociates.com 

 


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