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29th Mar 2020

EU, US seek regulatory convergence on future technology

  • Both the EU and US are trying to build 'regulatory convergence' for new technologies (Photo: Downing Street)

The US and EU are hoping to construct an 800-million-citizen-strong market with converging regulatory regimes whose standards will set the benchmark for product rules the world over.

At a meeting of joint EU-US Transatlantic Economic Council (Tec) on Friday (17 December) described as "fantastic" by American officials, the two sides backed a plan to try to seek common recognition for each others' standards in new areas of product development, from nanotechnology to electric cars.

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The two sides are to develop an 'early warning system' in which both Brussels and Washington will be made aware of new regulatory moves "upstream" in the pipeline, particularly when it comes to new technology products so as to leverage the power of the world's two biggest markets to shepherd regulation and standard development elsewhere on the planet.

While not wanting identical regulation, the two sides hope to achieve "increased regulatory co-operation". At the meeting, they agreed to a common set of principles to frame regulation development, including transparency, public participation and minimising the burden to business.

The two sides also backed "a science-based approach" to new technology regulation, saying that limits on product deployment should be based on "risk assessment" rather than "hazard assessment".

A common forum will continue to work on the development of joint principles and practices in the development of regulations, aiming to reach an accord on the subject by February next year.

Specifically the two sides will share a list of expected upcoming new laws "well in advance".

The aim is to allow experts to identify where both sides can collaborate on regulations, standards and testing procedures.

Initially, the EU and US want to focus laws relating to energy efficiency, e-health, nutritional labelling, electric cars and toy safety.

The US for its part, will provide its counterpart with a ‘regulatory plan' by next week and the EU will return the favour with a similar outline soon.

The Tec, long a meeting in search of a purpose according to some critics, has found its calling, according to America's ambassador to the bloc, William Kennard, as a site for the co-ordination of regulatory convergence.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Monday, he said: "There was a spirit of co-operation and comraderie not seen in the past and a sense of urgency."

A progress report will be developed by the Tec by midyear, although the point, said Mr Kennard was to better these one-off events and have regular meetings.

"The thing that is quite exciting for me is e-mobility, electric cars. A large percentage of jobs in both the US and the EU are dependent on the auto sector. For both sides of the Atlantic it is just imperative to get into hybrids and electric vehicles," he said. "If we can create regulatory, standard convergence, we create market where countries [beyond the EU and US] will have to pay attention to the standards we are collectively addressing."

The emphasis however will be on new products and new technologies. It would be a mammoth task to try to achieve regulatory convergence on existing items.

"Areas from the past are more difficult, where there's a lot of legacy regulation that's hard to change," he continued. "It's very hard to make changes after something's gone through Congress and been blessed by the courts."

"But we can write new rules together for industries just getting off the ground."

"The Tec is not a forum for deciding how we are going to create the conditions for [countries beyond the EU and US] to abide by what we're going to do, but, representing collectively 800 million people, this can make a compelling incentive."

"The Tec is taking a new direction toward something more productive," he said.

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