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1958 Agreement (almost) ready

11 April 2014

The informal working group on the International Whole Vehicle Type Approval (IWVTA) system has presented its ultimate proposal for a revised 1958 Agreement. The draft text is “final” with the exception of the one issue that is arguably the most important to the future of the global type-approval system: the voting threshold for establishing regulations.

The 1958 Agreement governs the international system of type-approval regulations. The agreement sets down the procedures for creating and amending these regulations and for their use and enforcement.

The agreement works because national governments (and the European Union regional government) agree to use exactly the same regulations (sometimes in parallel with local laws) and to accept one another’s approvals of automotive products based on those common rules. So, for example, the approval by Japan of a mirror design will be accepted by Germany and vice versa.

In 2009, Japan and the EU proposed to expand the 1958 Agreement to cover not only individual component systems (brakes, steering, headlamps, mufflers, seat belts, etc.) but entire vehicles. In other words, the various component regulations would be combined to enable the approval of a vehicle design that would then be accepted throughout the type-approval world.

From that idea has come the present proposal for a revised 1958 Agreement (document WP.29/2014/53) which seeks to “ensure that it remains the key international framework for the harmonization of technical regulations in the automotive sector”.

The IWVTA will be built upon a new “Regulation No. 0” that will specify the component regulations that must be met in order to receive the whole vehicle approval.

However, this work also raised questions about applicability, accessibility and global coverage (in other words, how to deal with varying degrees in the use of UN Regulations). For example, Japan currently accepts and applies 49 of the 131 UN Regulations. Australia accepts 33 rules, but does not issue type approvals. Brazil is not a party to the 1958 Agreement, but nonetheless bases most of its regulations on UN texts, often using earlier versions with less stringent provisions.

In order to expand its reach and applicability, therefore, the revised 1958 Agreement would allow governments to delay the application at home of regulations they vote to adopt at the World Forum in Geneva. The new agreement would allow countries to apply outdated versions of UN Regulations. And the agreement would permit voting by proxy such that delegations would no longer have to be present to vote during WP.29 sessions.

But what has yet to be defined is whether to change the current voting procedures under the agreement. At present, new regulations and changes to existing regulations pass by a two-thirds majority of the parties present and voting at each WP.29 session. Since the European Union holds 28 of the maximum of 50 votes, the EU alone can assure virtually any vote.

Consequently, many governments, including those of India, Japan, and Australia, support a change in the voting rules. In fact, India has made a change in voting a prerequisite to its joining the 1958 Agreement.

The 1958 Agreement is poised to take a major step towards establishing the type-approval system as the de facto global regulatory regime, but the World Forum (which meets again next June) will need to resolve concerns over the balance of power before this prospect can become reality.

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