For three and a half years, Canada and the United States have been experimenting with ways to improve cross-border cooperation and coordination among national regulators. Regulatory harmonization can benefit businesses by making regulatory processes more efficient and effective, and improving access to markets, for example by eliminating duplicate requirements and simplifying regulations.
In 2011, the new Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council launched a Joint Action Plan across a broad range of industries with 29 initiatives to identify opportunities to streamline regulations and resolve challenges through:
…enhanced technical collaboration, joint development and recognition of standards, work-sharing and lasting solutions to avoid future misalignments from developing.
According to the council’s 2014 report on the original Joint Action Plan:
Regulatory cooperation can only be successful if it helps agencies advance their central policy missions and achieves smarter regulatory outcomes more efficiently. Collaborating on research, conducting joint pilot programs, and exploring work share opportunities can support core objectives of protecting human health, safety, and the environment by relying on the resources and expertise of trusted partners.
The Joint Action Plan opened up the opportunity for:
- Unprecedented simultaneous dialogue among regulators about ongoing cooperation across multiple disciplines
- An opportunity to consider how to remove or reduce unnecessary differences and unnecessary or duplicative requirements across a range of areas
- Practical experience in implementing a diverse set of initiatives, with specific work plans and deliverables
- Greater understanding of systemic changes required to move away from an individual rule-by-rule approach to a more holistic approach to our bilateral cooperation
- Better understanding of cross-cutting challenges to regulatory cooperation that arise regardless of sector (e.g., information-sharing constraints, fund-sharing challenges, regulatory process differences)
Many of the original initiatives show promise and have produced “important specific results,” like the Common Electronic Submission Gateway that simplifies applications for pharmaceutical and biological products makers; joint ship inspections in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway; the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications, which harmonize the terminology for wholesale cuts of meat; and the Small Business Lens, which requires agencies to consider how their regulations will affect small businesses—and to reduce the burden on those businesses.
The Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Workplace Chemicals (GHS) was another area where regulators found ways to enhance coordination. The implementation of the GHS—possibly by June 2015—will be synchronized between Canada and the US, meaning:
…both countries will require common label and safety data sheet information for hazardous chemicals, which will promote both workplace safety and international trade.
Other areas of focus for regulatory coordination include:
- Meat inspection and certification
- Plant and animal health
- Marine safety and security
- Energy efficiency standards
- Natural gas transportation standards
- Rail safety and locomotive emissions
- Motor vehicle safety and engine emissions standards
- Chemicals management
- Crop protection products
- Food safety
- Over-the-counter products
- Medical devices
- Veterinary drugs
- Connected vehicles
- Transportation of dangerous goods
- Aviation regulations
- Explosives classification
- Toy safety
The next step is to integrate cooperation into the regulatory bodies’ ongoing operation. In six months, the participating regulators will produce Regulatory Partnership Statements describing how the agencies plan to cooperate. The statements will include:
- High-level governance between the agencies and a commitment to work together moving forward
- Opportunities for stakeholders to provide input, to inform strategies, identify priorities and discuss progress on the implementation of initiatives as appropriate
- A mechanism for annual reviews of work plans to consider adjustments and provide status updates on the progress
In 12 months, the council will look in greater depth at the results of the initiatives and explore how the regulators will share information and funding and manage differences in regulatory processes.
Read more about the Regulatory Cooperation Council’s initiatives in its “Joint Forward Plan.”