Cars & Car Parts – how do we agree on technical details?

Car Parts, global regulations.

Ever wondered how a car built here in the UK can be sold in, say, Malta and still be technically accpted? Or a car assembled in Japan sold here to an agreed level of specification? You may think it is the EU dictating policy on technical harmonisation. Well, you would be partially correct. The EU does play an active, legal role on what can be driven within member states:

    • however, the UK is responsible for certifying that a vehicle meets all requirements and for ensuring manufacturers’ compliance with EU law for vehicles in the UK.


    • In the UK this task is undertaken by the Vehicle Certification Agency.


    • The Vehicle Certification Agency has to send a copy of a vehicle approval to the other countries’ approving bodies within the EU.


  • however, a manufacturer can present a Certificate of Conformity. This is a statement that the car conforms to EU requirements. The UK would have to accept this and register a manufacturer’s vehicle if the Certificate of Conformity is valid.


So, there is a clear idea on how a vehicle sold within an EU member state can conform to a set of harmonised and agreed upon requirements for a car. Directive 2007/46/EC sets the framework for approving a car, its systems and components. This would cover cars built by a member of the EU as well as non EU states. So far so good. So what about a vehicle built within the EU for a non EU country?

Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations

In fact, there has been an international body involved in this that pre-dates the EU. It is the World Forum for the harmonization of vehicle regulations (WP.29). This working party of the United Nations first produced an agreement in Geneva. It was to do with the reciprocal recognition of approval of motor vehicle equipment and parts, way back in in March 1958. The body meets officially three times a year. Here is the thing:

“Any member country of the United Nations and any regional economic integration organization, set up by country members of the United Nations, may participate fully in the activities of the World Forum and may become a contracting party to the Agreements on vehicles administered by the World Forum.”

    • The EU can be a part as it is a “regional economic integration organization, set up by country members of the United Nations”.


    • At present the UK is represented by the EU.


    • The UK can be represented in its own right as a member country of the UN.


  • It may be that a regional organisation has a louder say in a forum that has 120 representatives than a single member; however, what if a member of a regional economic organisation had had its views marginalised by the other members?


So there can be common ground for all parties signed up to this UN body. There may be variations in certain markets, such as left hand drive versus right hand drive, but not such that they act as a barrier to trade. If you wanted to protect your own car and car parts market from external rivals then the use of a technical barrier to trade could be used. Car parts specifications could be used as a nontariff barrier, but that is an article for another day.v