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November 4, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Opening Remarks Prepared for
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Transatlantic Economic Council
Brussels, Belgium
Monday, May 12, 2008

Thank you, Vice President Verheugen.

The Department of Labor recognizes that SDoC is an important issue for the EU. We have spent significant time meeting with EU experts on SDoC, analyzing the SDoC system and reaching out to all interested parties. Following last month's meeting of the High Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum, the Department has agreed to issue a second Request for Information on SDoC.

As you know, one of the primary missions of the Labor Department is to protect the health and safety of workers. So third party approval of electrical equipment is required before it enters the workplace. Safety testing is done by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories, or "NRTLs." These requirements apply uniformly to all products, regardless of country of origin.

Let me note that the NRTL system already has many features that facilitate trade. Among them are the following:

  • The NRTL system is open to third-party entities from any country.
  • The NRTL system is simple to use; there are no elaborate rules or complicated bureaucracies governing how the system operates.
  • The NRTL system has flexibilities that reduce the cost and time for manufacturers to get their products approved.
  • The system relies heavily on the private sector, minimizing the need for large government resources and regulations.
  • Last, and most important, the NRTL system has proven to be very effective in ensuring the safety of products used in the workplace.

Notwithstanding this history, the Department has taken the EC's request very seriously and has devoted significant time analyzing the SDoC system.

In addition to meeting with EC representatives numerous times — most recently on May 5th — the Department has met with many other stakeholders to explore SDoC more fully. These stakeholders include:

  • The Information Technology Industry Council
  • The American National Standards Institute
  • Other U.S. Government agencies, and
  • Representatives from foreign and domestic testing laboratories.

In that regard, let me note that any proposal to change to the current NRTL system would need to involve all stakeholders, including organized labor.

In addition, the Department would also like to consult with the institutions in member States that actually administer and enforce electrical safety laws and directives. This would help us better understand how SDoC is implemented, since each country uses varying approaches.

Finally, let me note that adopting an SDoC system for the safety of electrical products in the United States would not be a simple administrative matter. It could be perceived as negatively impacting worker safety and would, therefore, be controversial.

Adopting an SDoC system, in whole or in part, could require a significant increase in the budget of the Department's Health and Safety Administration. And from what we have learned to date, this could also require an expansion of OSHA's authority to include post market surveillance and recall in its jurisdiction. This would require legislative changes that must be approved by the U.S. Congress. All of these will be problematical in the current budgetary and political environment.

Let me also emphasize that the rulemaking process in the United States is very public and transparent. All interested parties may comment, and by law each comment must be recorded, analyzed and taken into account. It is also worth noting that regulatory decisions are based not on the volume of comments received, but on their substance and quality. The most weight is given to hard data and to peer-reviewed research and documentation. And rulemaking is a lengthy process, taking several years to complete. Failure to follow the process exactly can be, and frequently is, the basis for lawsuits delaying or stopping regulations from going forward.

In conclusion, the Department would like to discuss with the EC ways to facilitate trade in electrical products in addition to the issue of SDoC. The Department recently proposed a new component to its NRTL Program, which could further facilitate trade in electrical products worldwide. And we would welcome the opportunity to share this with you.

We also would like to discuss some of the barriers to trade that exist within the EU with respect to conformity assessment. I refer to the requirement that designated safety conformity organizations, known as "notified bodies," must be physically located within the EU. The NRTL system has no comparable requirement — recognized organizations can be based in any country, close to manufacturers.

So there are many opportunities for further discussion. Thank you and I look forward to our continued cooperation on this issue.

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