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Post "The Brakes are Too Strong": NTTBs and Politics
Created by John Eipper on 07/18/18 3:45 AM

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"The Brakes are Too Strong": NTTBs and Politics (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 07/18/18 3:45 am)

Timothy Brown (July 17th) reflected on a leisure-equipment trade show he attended in the Netherlands:

"When I asked why [there was no US-made equipment at the show], I was told ‘because the brakes on your camper-trailers don't comply with our safety regulations--they're too strong.'"

Well, someone was pulling Tim's leg.  The idea that a camper van can't get a CE mark because the brakes are too strong was a joke. Safety standards aren't written that way, of course. The point of the joke, which I believe Tim missed, was that neither US nor EU safety standards are significantly better than each other, just different, and requiring separate certification, and are horribly bureaucratic, so that what is obviously a perfectly good camping van (it's allowed to be sold in the US, after all) can't be sold in the EU, because it doesn't meet different standards which are not obviously better or more stringent, just different. What Tim heard was a kind of cri du coeur against bureaucratic overregulation, made by a businessman who suffers under it.

Non-tariff trade barriers exist, of course, but it is really absurd to imagine that other countries have safety standards, different from ours, solely for the purpose of keeping out US goods, rather than for furthering safety according to their own ideas. Both the US and the EU have their own sets of very complex and bureaucratized product safety and environmental standards, which are expensive and time-consuming to comply with. Goods sold in the EU have to be CE marked to indicate compliance with these regulations. US manufacturers are not as a whole as export-savvy as those of many other countries, partially because of our mentality, but also because we have a huge internal market which is usually enough for most manufacturers without having to deal with pesky "furrin" safety standards, which are strange, and different from our own pesky standards. To sell into both markets, you have to considerably redesign the product to meet the other set of standards.

That principle applies absolutely equally to EU manufacturers selling into the US market. For example, for decades, the US maintained more stringent environmental standards for cars than existed in Europe, which were extremely expensive and burdensome for European manufacturers to meet. Were they "environmental standards" and not environmental standards, enacted solely for the purpose of keeping out European cars? Of course not--we had our own ideas about how clean cars should be, which were different from European ideas. The same thing with European safety standards.

As I said, non-tariff trade barriers surely exist, and should be eliminated, but we'll never get anywhere with that project if you assume that our own safety standards are so perfect and so awesome that other countries in the rest of the world have no right to their own safety standards, which may be different in some respects from ours, not to mention their own certification procedures like the CE mark.

If we want the EU to accept goods made to US safety standards, then the only way to do that is to harmonize those standards, as has already been done throughout Europe under the EU, one of the EU's main purposes (promoting free trade by harmonizing all kinds of standards). It's a little bit frightening to imagine our own sprawling bureaucracies joining forces with the EU ones, but I doubt if it would change much--our standards and certification procedures are already equally byzantine and bureaucratized.

JE comments:  Regarding cars, the US is still mired in regulations that prohibit many of the newer and better headlight technologies--European and Asian lights are indeed "too strong."  From the other perspective, the new Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 cannot be sold in Europe because the engine hood/bonnet is "too high."  It doesn't meet the EU's pedestrian-safety standards. 

So in America, you might be run over by a Corvette, but at least it won't blind you first.

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