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March 1 2004

U.S. and EU ink agreement on marine equipment

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Irish Ambassador Noel Fahey last week signed a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) on marine equipment between the United States and the European Community (EC). Ireland currently holds the rotating EU Presidency and Lamy and Fahey signed on behalf of the European Community.

"The U.S.-EC Marine Equipment MRA represents an important new mechanism to facilitate transatlantic trade and promote closer US-EU regulatory cooperation. This agreement saves U.S. manufacturers of marine equipment the time and expense of redundant product testing for the EU market, and also promotes our efforts to improve the quality of international marine safety regulations," said Zoellick.

Current U.S.-EU trade in the initial products covered in the agreement amounts to approximately $150-200 million annually. The agreement contemplates expanding the product scope within the marine equipment sector, which is over $1 billion in annual two-way trade.

"The U.S. Coast Guard looks forward to working with the EU to implement this important agreement to provide flexibility, opportunity, and cost savings to shipbuilders, shipowners, and marine equipment manufacturers, while upholding the highest level of marine safety," said Rear Admiral Thomas H. Gilmour, the Coast Guard's Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Environment Protection.

Under the terms of the Marine Equipment MRA, designated products which comply with U.S. requirements will be accepted for sale in the EU without any additional testing.

The MRA will permit U.S. rigid life rafts, for example, determined by the U.S. Coast Guard to conform to U.S. regulations to be sold in the EU marketplace without any additional tests. Likewise, European rigid life rafts that are determined by European authorities to meet EU requirements can be sold in the United States without additional testing.

The initial MRA product scope includes 43 products in three main categories: life saving equipment (e.g., distress signals, rigid life rafts); fire protection equipment (e.g., deck coverings, flame retardant materials); and navigational equipment (e.g., GPS equipment, echo-sounding equipment).

The agreement fully preserves the U.S. Coast Guard's authority to determine the level of safety protection it considers appropriate, and in no way lowers current U.S. marine safety requirements. Under negotiation since late 1999, the marine equipment MRA is an initiative of the United States and European Union under the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP).

The MRA will enter into force later this year.

Background: In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard administers conformity assessment requirements for marine equipment used on merchant ships, which includes lifesaving equipment, fire protection systems, and navigational equipment. The European Union and United States maintain similar requirements -- both systems are based on the requirements under the Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Under the agreement, each party agrees to cooperate in the IMO and other relevant international organizations to establish and improve the quality and level of international requirements for marine equipment. The MRA's product scope is based on a detailed product-by-product determination of the equivalency of U.S. and EU marine equipment requirements. Only products facing identical requirements in each market are included in the initial product scope.

In cases where equivalency subsequently is not maintained (e.g., one party changes its requirements), the mutual recognition obligations for that product are suspended and the product is removed from the scope of the agreement.

For a list of products covered by this agreement, download the text of the agreement here.

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