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Communications of the ACM

From Washington: EC directives aim for market harmony


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The 1992 unification plans for the 12-nation European Community (EC) have surely been among the most dissected blueprints of the year. Politicians ponder trade agreements, economists refigure potential revenues, and media attention is unrelenting. Absorbing it all are those U.S. high tech industries hoping to make a lasting impression on what the economists, politicians and media all predict will be a $4 trillion market of over 300 million consumers.Harmony has become the slogan adopted for the project. The EC Commission has spent the past five years identifying and implementing a program of close to 300 directives and regulations that would allow for the free movement of consumer products within the community. The goal of these directives, in addition to promoting European commerce and fair business competition, is to eliminate possible physical, technical or fiscal trade barriers. The result, they hope, is one harmonious marketplace.Watching every note of this orchestration has been the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC). Working with an internal program that includes the participation of senior officials from the International Trade Administration, the DoC has examined over 185 of the adopted or proposed directives issued by the EC Commission. Moreover, it consulted with trade associations and industry representatives to explore how these directives relate to current U.S. business practices and determine how they might affect future EC business dealings.The DoC has published the results of its analyses in a three-volume series that examines directives for a rainbow of products and businesses. The recently released EC 1992: A Commerce Department Analysis of European Directives, Volume 3 features the Department's final roundup of EC Directives—primarily those stipulating technical requirements, nine of which pertain to computers and telecommunications.Much attention has focused on how the high tech industries, particularly computers, software, telecommunications, and information technology, will be affected by EC standards, certification and testing issues. (See Communications, April 1990 and July 1990). According to Myles Denny-Brown, an international economist and coordinator for EC 92 activities for information technology industries at the DoC, the high tech industry regards EC market potential with cautious optimism. “I believe (industry) feels there is the possibility for some real liberalization there,” he says. “But there is also the possibility of some restrictiveness.”Denny-Brown points out that standards and procurement issues are particularly important to build a competitive environment that would allow market growth to really take off the way it should. (see sidebar)

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