LeaveHQ, 01/04/2016  

The “digital market” comprises the physical infrastructure relating to the provision of telephones and electronic communication generally, television and radio, and the content providers, including state broadcasters. But it extends also to the sale of goods and services online (i.e., via the internet).

In one of the most important areas of the digital market – mobile communications – the EU’s laws assisted initial development of the current industry standard, GSM – standing for Global System for Mobile Communications (originally Groupe Spécial Mobile). But the actual standard emerged through intergovernmental co-operation and industry initiatives.

Now that the system is truly global and is being exploited internationally, the EU is no longer a dominant player and the UK gains no special advantage from membership. Systems and technology are so complex and developing with such rapidity that the regulatory “reach” of the EU is relatively limited. We need to work at a global level and also with the private sector, which is driving the development of many standards.

This has seen the growing phenomenon of Transnational Private Regulators, where non-governmental bodies regulate the conduct of private actors across jurisdictional boundaries. Additionally, we are seeing the emergence of global “super regulators” in the form of the World Standards Cooperation Alliance, which was established in 2001.

The industry works primarily through voluntary standards. This makes the digital market an excellent example of how we will be developing outside the EU. And independent Britain will be working with these bodies, and in particular the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

 Outside the EU, we should experience no problems as this cutting edge industry is also pioneering what amounts to a revolution in technical regulation. The driver of change has been the UNECE, which has been developing and continues to develop an “International Model” of regulation, through its WP.6 (Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardisation Policies).

This has a far wider application than the digital market, and points the way to the future. The Working Party creates a forum for dialogue among regulators and policy makers, where a wide range of issues is discussed, including technical regulations, standardisation, conformity assessment, metrology, market surveillance and risk management.

It makes recommendations that promote regulatory policies to protect the health and safety of consumers and workers, and to preserve our natural environment, without creating unnecessary barriers to trade and investment. While they are non-binding, they are widely implemented in UNECE member states and beyond, setting the global standards for a range of industries.

In the telecoms industry, the “International Model” relies on the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), creating a framework for the practical implementation of technical harmonisation. It draws on existing schemes for good regulatory practice, as catalogued by the WTO. Organisations involved include APEC, ASEAN, OECD, UNECE and the World Bank.

The “model” provides a set of voluntary principles and procedures for countries wishing to harmonise technical regulations. Some international regulations exist, but they tend to be cumbersome and over-detailed. They are difficult to prepare and to amend once in place. The new system, under the aegis of UNECE, brings interested countries together to discuss and agree a regulatory framework. This is then turned into a “common regulatory objective” (CRO). For the detailed requirements that implement CROs, international standardisation bodies are used. They provide a forum for all interested parties (including regulatory authorities), and have established a degree of trust at international level.

On a procedural level, when the need for regulatory convergence has been identified and supported by governments, the “model” opens up a dialogue on how safety, environmental or other legitimate requirements can be met by technical regulation.

This discussion identifies “agreed and concrete legitimate concerns”, which become the “common regulatory objectives”. Countries then agree which existing international standards could provide for technical implementation or, where necessary, they call for new standards. These are then implemented using the principles in the WTO/TBT Agreement.

Effectively, this new system binds together the relevant “top tables”, at which the UK can readily participate, without needing EU membership. It is so flexible that Britain leaving the EU actually improves its ability to influence regulation on a global scale.

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