EU FTAs & bilateral ties, Exclusive Interviews, Regulations, United States

Exclusive interview: Elena Santiago Cid – CEN & CENELEC


Elena Santiago Cid, the director general of CEN and CENELEC*, two of the three European standards organisations, shares her views with Hermine Donceel on how recent EU trade agreements deal with industry standards issues. She also talks about the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks and shares her views on issues such as Brexit and China’s emergence as a global standard setter.


How do CEN and CENELEC fit in the international standardisation landscape?


CEN and CENELEC membership is conditioned on membership of the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Our objective is not to make business with standards, but to support business with standards, by eliminating technical barriers to trade.


The vision of Europe’s industry is to promote the principle of one single international body that designs standards that are widely accepted internationally. About 78 percent of CENELEC electrotechnical European standards are identical to or based on international IEC standards. In CEN, 32 percent of European standards are identical to ISO standards. In CEN, the figures vary greatly from sector to sector. Whenever international standards are available, European industries prefer avoiding the parallel development of specific European standards. European experts are deeply invested in developing international standards in ISO and IEC.


These international standard organisations also working to ensure developing countries are on board by providing capacity building.


What is your involvement in the negotiations of EU free trade agreements?


CEN and CENELEC play a significant role in supporting market access, thereby promoting and facilitating free trade talks.


Cooperation agreements have been signed with the national standardisation bodies of Canada, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. These undertakings improve mutual understanding on standards and lead to a better understanding of each other’s technical requirements. A total of 87,696 European standards are now effectively adopted in third countries.


Our collaboration with Canada was very fruitful from the launch of the CETA negotiation. We signed a cooperation agreement with the Standard Council of Canada. The latter has now become a ‘companion standardisation body’ of CEN. Under this arrangement, Canadian experts can access European technical committees and adopt European standards. This helps address technical barriers to trade. Dialogue with Canada has already allowed us to design a new standard – such as in the construction sector – that does not inadvertently discriminate against Canadian firms. Our collaboration with Canada also clears the way towards standard alignment: the adoption of European standards for Canadian products generates market access for European products.


CEN and CENELEC cooperation with the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee also supports the EU-Japan trade talks. This technical cooperation agreement allows Japanese experts to participate in European technical committees and vice-versa.


Collaboration is not always smooth and easy. For instance, European technical committee meetings are in English while in Japan, they are held in Japanese. Translation is not always provided. Some European experts are becoming more cautious about sharing information, because of the limited reciprocity: in the end, it is a lot of our know-how that we put in the basket. Europeans have welcomed Japanese exporters in meetings on photovoltaic components, for which Europe has very successful standards. But European experts were not really welcome in similar Japanese meetings.


Another very important project for CEN and CENELEC is Africa, where they are engaged with the African Union bodies for standardisation, the Africa Standardisation Organisation and the African Electrotechnical Standardisation Commission. CEN and CENELEC are now trying to engage with African and European regulators to elaborate a plan that would support quality infrastructure development in Africa on the basis of the European model. This plan could be integrated in the roadmap for the November 2017 EU-Africa summit.


European industries have also been seeking greater market access to Gulf Cooperation Council countries. CEN and CENELEC signed in 2012 a memorandum of understanding with the Gulf standardisation organisation. We organised webinars with market surveillance authorities from the EU and the Gulf. Work includes translating technical requirements of standards, explaining implementation mechanisms, so as to help prevent useless, costly additional conformity assessments and certifications procedures.


CEN and CENELEC also signed in June this year an agreement with the Eurasian Economic Commission. There are political difficulties due to the Western sanctions on Russia. But our cooperation focuses on technical issues for greater harmonisation.


What about China?


CEN and CENELEC are vigilant when it comes to China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative and what we think is an aggressive Chinese international standard strategy. In the past 10 years, China has worked hard to obtain influential positions in ISO and IEC and has become a major player in international standardisation bodies. Their contribution to international bodies facilitates Chinese products accessing international markets.


But Beijing is avoiding committing to the systematic identical adoption of international standards. Rather, it is developing Chinese standards to protect its internal market. The bilateral trade agreements that China is developing worldwide enjoin partners to adopt Chinese standards. This is bound to make CEN and CENELEC’s work difficult, as if our members sign bilateral agreements with China, they will be likely compelled to adopt Chinese standards, potentially conflicting with European ones to which they are bound.


What is CEN and CENELEC’s take on Brexit?


CEN and CENELEC do not have a position on Brexit at this point because of the uncertainties surrounding the future trade relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom.


If the next British legal framework is not aligned with the EU’s internal market, there risks being some divergence with our system.


For British and EU legal frameworks to be sufficiently harmonised, we believe that the minimum requirement would be a customs union, or at least the harmonisation of technical chapters related to the internal market, such as in the case of Switzerland.


Most British industries want to avoid leaving the European standardisation system and its single, central standard model covering 34 countries. This model has always been actively promoted by the British industry. About 28 percent of European standard committees are chaired by British experts.


Most of our members and industries are also very keen on keeping British expertise in our technical committees: technical harmonisation with such an important market is highly convenient on both sides of the Channel.


Little is known in the wider public about your work? Are you opening up to new actors?


Traditionally, most of our experts come from industry. But the European standardisation process is becoming more open and transparent, and CEN and CENELEC make a lot of room for civil society participation. We believe inclusiveness makes our standards better and supports their market acceptance.


CEN and CENELEC are still working on improving inclusiveness and transparency. For instance, we have recently approved a ‘right of opinion’ at European level, whereby civil society organisations can express their opinion during the standardisation development process. A ‘not favourable’ opinion may trigger an early revision of the standard to address shortcomings highlighted.


The right of opinion is a new, much-needed tool in the standardisation system for societal stakeholders. From 1 January 2017, the European Association for the Coordination of Consumer Representation in Standardisation, the European Environmental Citizens’ Organization in Standardization and the European Trade Union confederation can express a ‘favourable’ or ‘not favourable’ opinion during the standardisation development process.


We are putting a lot of work into adopting a digital transformation strategy and joining forces with other international bodies to propose a dynamic, online approach to standard-setting so that all stakeholders are able to collaborate in real time in the standards-development process.


How do you look back on the TTIP process?


There are major differences in the United States comparing to the European standardisation system.


In the US, the American National Standards Institute accredits standards developers to create standards. US legislation provides mandatory prescriptions and sometimes includes a mandatory industrial standard. However, stakeholders have very limited possibility to get involved in the legislative process.


There are more than 700 American standard development organisations, about 220 are ANSI-accredited standards developers, but only 10 to 15 of those are supporting regulation.


In consequence, adopting US standards does not systematically guarantee market access in the US. But since European standards do provide access to European markets, there is no reciprocity in collaborating on standards.


In that regard, we were fully in line with reservations expressed by European civil society against regulatory cooperation in TTIP.


We also oppose EU-US mutual recognition of standards.


For existing standards, the only option to guarantee reciprocity – and thus serving the purpose of free trade talks – is to work on regulatory alignment, which will de facto bring standards closer.


As a matter of fact, the best scenario for boosting convergence is to jointly work on the creation of new standards from scratch, involving respective experts and civil societies.


*European standards organisations are: CENELEC, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization; CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation; and ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. Officially recognised by EU law , these bodies act as the sole platforms through which European standards are developed in support of the implementation of European regulations and policies. They create standards requested by the market and ensure they are harmonised across Europe, based on requirements mandated by EU legislation.

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