BRUSSELS, Belgium—There´s growing concern among "western" tire makers that several emerging nations-China foremost among them-are starting to require their own national quality certification process and sidewall markings as a prerequisite to selling tires in those countries.
The issue, brewing for the past couple of years, was discussed publicly at the recent Trans Atlantic Business Dialog meeting in Brussels, an annual summit of business leaders from Europe and North America. At stake are hundreds of thousands-if not millions-of dollars of added expenses.
Just as the U.S. requires a Department of Transportation mark and the European Community requires a Conformite Europene-or "CE"-mark, other countries want their own marks to identify tires that are acceptable for use on their nation´s roads. As an example, the TABD group referred to China, whose Chinese Compulsory Certification has been in force since August 2003.
A spokesman for the European Tire & Rubber Manufacturers Association said some countries have suggested implementing their own national marks, notionally to ensure consistent technical quality. He mentioned China, Saudi Arabia, Australia and other countries in Asia and South America as examples of countries that have proposed their own national marking system for the sidewall.
According to the ETRMA, there is a global agreement, which went into force in August 2000, the aim of which is to enhance the process of international harmonization through the development of global technical regulations. These regulations are designed to cover all countries in the world, and not just the 50 or so that have signed this or previous agreements.
The agreement was developed under the auspices of the United Nations within the UN´s Economic Commission for Europe´s Working Party 29, which covers tires and tire-related issues. Unfortunately, these regulations do not allow for one country to recognize approvals that meet the global technical regulations and have certification from another country.
Thus, while the standards may be accepted by all parties, each country can, in theory at least, require a separate authorization and certification mark, according to those familiar with the regulations.
A number of tire companies contacted for comment all responded in a guarded way, suggesting that these difficulties should be worked out through international cooperation. They further added that any such agreement would probably take many years to achieve.
"It will probably be one of the topics where a global agreement could be the perfect solution for everybody," a Continental A.G. spokesman said. "But this will certainly be hard to get it realized."
A spokesman for Bridgestone Corp. said, "At the industry level, we believe the future is to reach international regulations covering all countries, but it has some way to go."
In the specific case of China, the size of the market makes it especially attractive. The International Rubber Study Group estimates that China makes and consumes about 5.4 percent of the world´s tires, based on 2002 data.
However, according to a spokesman for the ETRMA, China´s CCC regulations are expensive and cumbersome and act as a barrier to trade.
The regulations require that each tire series made in each plant needs separate approval. The application can be handled only by a limited number of authorized consultants, and it takes about three months per application. In addition, there is an annual audit fee for each approval.
The Bridgestone spokesman said with the CCC regulation in place, Bridgestone is in the process of gaining approvals for all the factories and sizes it sells into China in order to participate in both the Chinese original equipment and replacement markets. In all, the spokesman said, the cost of each Chinese homologation is close to $2,500 per approval, on average.
The ETRMA spokesman said this is a significant issue for the whole tire industry, not just in terms of China, but in terms of ensuring standards are in place around the world and that trade is not restricted by demands that are specific to one country.
In a letter to the European Commission DG Trade, the ETRMA said the Chinese regulations are not consistently implemented in different parts of the country, and the specific technical regulations are incompatible with the international standards developed in UN/ECE WP 29 in Geneva.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association declined to comment on the issue.