Maintaining Standards

An interview with Jun Zhang, Chair of the European Chamber’s Standards and Conformity Assessment Working Group.

June-ZhangJun Zhang (June) has been working in standards and conformity assessment (SCA) for nearly 10 years and is currently Head of Technical Regulation and Standardisation in Corporate Technology, Siemens Ltd, China. June has been an active member of the Chamber’s Standards and Conformity Assessment Working Group for four years now, and in 2015 she was elected its chair. She met with EURObiz to discuss the current SCA landscape in China and some of the working group’s positions related to SCA.

How significant are SCA-related issues for companies operating in China?

If you want to sell your products in China, it is necessary to fulfil local, technical requirements related to SCA, including mandatory standards, compulsory certifications, technical regulations or even administrative licences. Otherwise, due to non-compliance with national requirements, your products coming to China might be blocked by customs or you might be held liable for products already sold in the market. So SCA is a serious topic that impacts a number of sectors and products.

What are the main differences in China’s SCA system now, compared to when you first began working in this area?

With China’s increasing exchanges and cooperation with international partners on SCA issues, the whole SCA system has been steadily improving. More importantly, after the restructuring of the central government in 2013, the standardisation system and certification system went through significant changes.

For standardisation, we can see a few major changes. First, the previous three levels of mandatory standards—national, sectoral and local—have been grouped into one level. This makes it much easier for standards users to become aware of all mandatory requirements in a more transparent way. Second, standardisation work was previously purely government driven in China. Now, qualified social organisations are encouraged to develop standards in the form of ‘social organisational standards’. This allows a group of participants from industry and other stakeholders to formulate standards based on their individual and practical requirements. Generally, these are positive changes as long as they are openly communicated and are open to all interested parties.

What are the main issues that European companies face in China in terms of standardisation?

We have been continuously making efforts to facilitate the establishment of a standardisation system that is run in an open, fair and transparent manner. Besides this, the legacy membership issue is still very worthy of attention, although there have been some recent improvements in certain technical committees.

But some technical committees still refuse membership requests from foreign companies in practice. One reason is that we are seen as competitors to local companies. This may keep foreign companies out of the local market, and prevent them from contributing the internationally agreed state of technology to national standards as well. This risks market fragmentation and the creation of technical barriers to trade, and does not take international technological developments into consideration. In my view, by definition standardisation requires cooperation between all interested stakeholders to mutually define the standards that are of interest and then apply them broadly.

What are the main issues that European companies face in China in terms of conformity assessment?

The major challenge is being aware of, and knowing how to apply, the overlapping or even conflicting requirements for a specific product in all of the different schemes, including mandatory standards, compulsory certification, technical regulations and administrative licences. These schemes are defined and released by different authorities, and in some cases we perceive a lack of agreement between them. In some extreme cases, it is up to the companies to go to each one individually to try and resolve these issues. This not only wastes resources but also increases the time to market for manufacturers and hinders the timely provision of products to end users. It is the hope of the working group that going forward there can be improved coordination between the relevant authorities.

Do you think China’s ongoing standardisation reform is being correctly implemented?
Generally it is going in the right direction. Last March, the State Council released its reform plan and last June an inter-ministerial joint meeting scheme was established as a high-level coordination scheme. Also, in February 2016, the central government began the process of streamlining and consolidating mandatory standards.

Regarding social organisational standards, in the last year there have already been 39 pilot organisations formulating their own social organisational standards. This presents a risk but also an opportunity.

There has also been progress in the area of enterprise standards. Previously, enterprise standards required registration, now enterprises only need to do self-declaration via public information platforms. Pilots were started in seven provinces, later expanding to many more, with around 20,000 enterprises declaring their standards.

What would you consider to be the working group’s major successes since you have been active?

I have participated in several actions that contributed our opinion on SCA on issues such as energy efficiency, labelling and the revision of China’s Standardisation Law.

The SCA Working Group considers the efforts we made on China’s mandatory standard GB 5296.1 to have been a great success. This standard applies to how to write instructions for the use of certain consumer products. It addresses several sectors such as household appliances, toys and cosmetics, so its impact is far reaching. This standard was released by the government at the end of 2012, and was set to come into force five months later. Upon its release we noticed that some of the requirements were conflicting with relevant regulations and that there were some practical implementation issues. We contacted the relevant authorities and held several rounds of technical discussions, and joined hands with other industry associations. Eventually, this standard was first postponed until May 2014, and then postponed for a second time until May 2016.

Last but not least, the SCA Working Group welcomes all interested parties to work together to facilitate the establishment of a fair market access environment in China.