Norms and standards

    How the UNECE is facilitating international trade

    It is not only customs duties that hinder global trade, but also differing safety and environmental regulations. The solution here is a harmonization of the requirements for approval.

    It is not only customs duties that hinder global trade, but also differing safety and environmental regulations. The solution here is a harmonization of the requirements for approval.

    Crucial step toward international harmonization

    The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has the task of creating a uniform system for regulating vehicle manufacturing. Its aim is to facilitate international trade, and implement as well as monitor measures for the global harmonization or further development of technical regulations for vehicles.

    The benefits of a global harmonization of uniform technical regulations result from easier market access without administrative or technical barriers. This would allow for globally uniform high safety standards with corresponding economies of scale in manufacturing. At the same time, the work of the UNECE offers consumers safety and quality by way of defining common norms and standards.

    Since the end of the 1950s, the UNECE has been working on cross-border harmonization of technical regulations. The UNECE agreement dated March 20, 1958, concerning the adoption of uniform technical prescriptions for wheeled vehicles, equipment and parts that can be fitted and/or be used on wheeled vehicles, and the conditions for reciprocal recognition of approvals granted on the basis of these prescriptions, represented a milestone on the path toward uniform technical registration regulations. The agreement now comprises 157 technical regulations, concerning not only systems and components for active and passive safety, but also environmentally relevant regulations. Meanwhile, the agreement has been signed by 63 countries.

    Within the EU, there is complete harmonization of registration regulations and mutual recognition. Outside the EU, not all signatory states apply all regulations. Many countries, such as Russia, have integrated the regulations into their national registration law. The situation is similar in Japan. However, even if only a few of the ECE regulations are applied, this is already a first step toward harmonization.

    Type approval vs. self-certification

    The 1958 agreement is based on the type approval process. An independent test institution produces a report with the aim of confirming the validation of ECE requirements. A public authority then issues the type approval on this basis.

    As a result, the USA is fundamentally barred from joining the 1958 agreement. This is because the process of self-certification used in the United States is incompatible with type approval. For this reason, a further agreement has been launched under the auspices of the UN, the global technical regulations under the UNECE agreement of 1998 ("Global technical regulations for wheeled vehicles, equipment and parts that can be fitted and/or be used on wheeled vehicles"). This agreement has now been signed by 33 countries—including some EU member states, the People's Republic of China, South Korea, and the United States of America.

    Since 1998, 13 global technical regulations (GTRs) have been drawn up by the expert committees of the UNECE. Most of these GTRs have been implemented as part of the 1958 agreement; consequently, they are recognized by its signatory states and implemented via the ECE regulations. In addition, a few GTRs have been adopted into national law by signatory states of the 1998 agreement.

    IWVTA as an internationally valid type approval

    The committees of the ECE at the United Nations in Geneva are also working on further developing the 1958 agreement and increasing the number of states applying it. The agreement should be made more attractive for other states to join. There should also be dialog with developing countries who do not yet consider themselves in a position to apply the ECE regulations to full effect. As a result, a process has been launched for extending the agreement to an international whole vehicle type approval (IWVTA). The 1958 agreement is being expanded so as to create not only harmonized regulations for systems or components, but for the whole vehicle. To this end, an ECE regulation 0 is being formulated, which covers a whole vehicle approval.

    To make it easier for developing countries to use the IWVTA, and thus make joining the agreement more attractive, the regulation 0 allows scope for the contracting parties to take a more flexible approach to the strictness and scope of requirements within the individual countries. Although this will not allow complete mutual recognition of approvals initially, it does represent a first step in that direction.

    Thus, the first level would involve an approval with limited recognition in the event that it only certifies a smaller technical scope. The result of this might be that it is not possible to provide proof of compliance with individual regulations. On the other hand, however, there might also be universal approvals certifying compliance with all requirements (on the highest level). The major advantage compared to the EU type approval already practiced today is that the ECE regulations would apply in a significantly wider area than the European Union alone.

    Contracting parties that intend to apply type approvals with restricted recognition must notify the UN Secretariat which deviations from a universal IWVTA they are prepared to accept. The goal is and remains whole vehicle approval. On the long path leading to "approved once—accepted everywhere," at least the first IWVTA approval should be granted by the end of the decade.

    Philipp Niermann
    Technical Regulations & Materials Regulations and Harmonization

    Philipp Niermann

    Head of Competence Center

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