One has to wonder if the time hasn’t arrived when the world’s politicians need to get together and agree a plan to harmonise environmental regulations when it comes to the manufacture of mass-market goods. The complexity of complying with different regulatory requirements in a multitude of different markets places considerable burdens on manufacturers which act, inter alia, as significant barriers to smaller companies trying to expand into export markets.
It seems odd that a product that is approved in one country may not be acceptable in another. Surely, the dangers posed to humans and the environment are the same wherever you are. Take, for example, the spread of hazardous substance legislation that all began with the European Union’s Restrictions on Hazardous Substances ( RoHS ), a directive that took effect in 2006. This compelled electrical and electronic component manufacturers to use less dangerous metals like lead and cadmium in their products. Six years down the road and we are now seeing many devices being totally lead-free and EU RoHS compliance is taken for granted.
The problem is that the success of this EU initiative has spawned copycat legislation all around the world in countries such as Japan, Turkey and China. China’s RoHS is obviously having the biggest impact on component manufacturers by virtue of the sheer size of the market it covers. However, its scope is different from European legislation inasmuch as it includes a different range of products. In China, automotive electronics and radar equipment, which are currently excluded from EU RoHS, are included. Meanwhile, EU legislation regulates toys and many domestic appliances that are outside the scope of China’s RoHS.
Furthermore, China’s regulation does not allow exemptions while labels, marks, and disclosure are mandatory. Even the penalties for non-compliance are different from those in the EU.
What is additionally onerous for manufacturers in the electrical and electronic industries is the fact that consumers of a variety of products also tend to have different requirements when it comes to environmental compliance. There are usually different requirements in designs for medical, transportation, industrial, or defence and aerospace markets etc. Industry regulations reign supreme.
While there are so many different bodies all making and enforcing different regulations about the same thing, a whole industry has grown up simply to advise companies and steer them through all the hoops that each country imposes. Every developed country seems to have a raft of civil servants providing advice for manufacturing exporters. How much simpler and efficient it would be for there to be just one universal set of regulations which every country can agree on. But then when did bureaucrats ever believe in simplicity and efficiency ?