Technical Regulations – South American Perspective

During the past decades, many countries realized that conformity assessment can be a good method to regulate markets. A market can be regulated to offer safe and/or efficient products to protect consumers, but also to create barriers or artificially increase the cost of imported goods which, eventually, is paid by consumers.

The term “technical regulation” means a document which lays down product characteristics or their related processes and production methods, including the applicable administrative provisions, with which compliance is mandatory. Technical regulations are established by an authority to introduce a certain restriction in the market; such restriction should contribute to the community, e.g: restriction of unsafe products definitively contributes to Public Safety, restriction of products which are not properly labeled also contributes to the community or consumers.

Technical regulations may also include, not only the requirements of a product, but also the mechanism(s) by which the authority may control the fulfillment of such requirements (e.g.: Testing, Inspection & Certification).

In South America, unlike Europe where European Directives have approached this issue with a regional view, each country has its own regulation and, thus its own technical requirements and/or conformity assessment scheme. This fact may lead manufacturers (regardless where they are located) to undergo difficulties (say: costs & time) to put their products in South American markets.

When dealing with a technical regulation is it important to differentiate some key elements:

Scope of the technical regulation (TR): Are the products actually within the scope of the TR? Some TR has some exemptions due to the nature of the product or the use of it. For example: In Argentina, electrical products which are intended to be used by skilled people (in term of electrical safety) may be exempted of a third party certification as required for other electrical consumer products, so a Declaration by importer may be enough to fulfill the TR and thus, put the product in the Argentinean market. In Chile, not all electrical products are subjected to a safety or energy efficiency labelling certification, e.g.: adapters for a notebook is not subjected to a compulsory third party certification, however adapters for cell phones shall be third party certified in Chile. In Perú, refrigerators are not subjected to a third party certification in terms of electrical safety, however refrigerators are currently subjected to a compulsory energy efficiency labelling and after April, such label shall third party certified (like in Argentina, Perú or Brazil).

Technical requirements (standard): This is the “KEY” element. If standards referred in TRs belonging to different countries are similar it means that a certain design of product may be suitable for all markets and perhaps the effort of entering to a new market is just to have product tested, inspected or certified (as per particular TR) or may change some markings, but it will not be necessary an engineering change of the product which may lead to an substantial rise of costs of development. For safety requirements, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Perú and Brazil have almost similar requirements (based on IEC standards, except for some particular items like plugs or socket outlets, language of manuals, markings and other minor issues). However for energy efficiency labelling, each country has its own technical standard which may be aligned in some sense (e.g. test methods), but differ in other (energy efficiency labels), making necessary for manufacturers to customize the packaging for each country (increment costs) or to implement various-energy-efficiency-labels in one piece of packaging which may be confusing for consumers and, thus go against the original purpose of the TR.

How manufacturer/importer/distributor demonstrates compliance with the TR?

Conformity assessment: This is an item which is critical when marketing products in South American markets. For some products (e.g: Electrical consumer products, toys, personal protective equipment, steel for structural purposes in Argentina, some electrical consumer products in Chile, household appliances, medical devices or toys in Brazil, some consumer electrical consumer products or toys in Equator, and dozens of other products) an in-country third party certification is required. Although standard may be (almost) the same, the process of certification may differ substantially, for example: electrical safety certification for some household appliances in Argentina requires a mark of conformity scheme certification (ISO System 5 as per ISO/IEC 17067) according to the applicable IEC or IRAM (National Standard) standard, testing may be performed at in-country recognized laboratories, manufacturer’s laboratory (witness by certification body) or foreign certifications may be recognized avoiding the need of performing the initial type testing (process of recognition of foreign certification does not avoid the in-country certification and also have some special requirements to the Certification Body so as to be able to do it); in Chile also a in country certification may be necessary, however importer may have available (at his/her choice) different certification schemes within the “most popular” is the one requiring a type testing at a laboratory with an agreement with a certification body in Chile (regardless where laboratory is located) plus a follow up to each batch imported into Chile. In both cases, technical requirements are quite similar because both TR can be complied fulfilling the requirements of an IEC standard, difference are in marking & plug. As it can be seen, certification process may take a lot of time and become critical during the planning stage of launching products into the new market (even worse when products have a high rotation).

Point of control: Compliance with the applicable TR is a must, however from the logistics point of view, supply chain may be more affected depending on when/where the compliance of TR is required to be demonstrated. TRs whose compliance is verified by authorities to clear a shipment from customs have much higher economic impact than a TR for which the requirement is verified at point of sale due to the fact that no compliance in customs will imply immediately extra charges not only due to lost profit but also due to shipment’s clearance delay. Also related with this issue, the success of the implementation of a TR relies in the kind of control that authority makes in the market; if no control or surveillance is made, probability of success decrease dramatically; establishing systematic barriers (e.g. at customs) may contribute to improve the level of control.

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