The decision to go global with a product can present numerous challenges. A multitude of rules and regulations govern the manufacturing, import, and sale of products, and these regulations change often, resulting in confusion and higher costs. Getting products to international markets quickly, while meeting the obligations of diverse environments and customer needs, is an important balancing act, and there are several steps product-producing companies can take to help ensure success.
Step 1: Define What "Global" Means to You
"Global" doesn't necessarily mean every country or even continent. In fact, most products are targeted toward the specific markets known to generate revenue. This could be regional or narrowly focused on countries, depending on product or sales attributes.
Knowing early in the design cycle where a product will be exported and the priority of each market is critical for successful market entry with minimal compliance costs. Companies should be prepared to determine a country list for a product early, justify entry costs by knowing the estimated value of each country, and be aware of regulations for each country (as well as regulatory changes). Ensure you are working with current information.
Step 2: Know the Law
Some countries have specific, clearly written requirements focused on increasing trade, maintaining a robust product market, and protecting its citizens from potential harm. Other countries are less organized. The global marketplace, as a whole, is growing more unified, with international trade agreements and harmonized requirements. It is important for product companies to know what is regulated in each country they wish to enter, and how regulations apply to particular products.
Regulations could be related to electrical safety, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), sanitation, performance, energy efficiency, chemical restrictions, safety, and more. In addition to knowing what is regulated and how, product firms also need to understand requirements for inspections, testing and certification, and customs. Identifying the requirements of target countries allows manufacturers to build a test program that meets the requirements of all target markets.
Testing to one country's requirements can provide the basis for compliance to many other countries, with little or no additional testing. With this understanding, companies can increase their products' revenue potential with incremental markets of sale and alleviate redundant testing costs and time. For this reason, multinational schemes can play a key role in addressing multiple regulations. One example is the CB scheme, run by the IECEE and offered by an international group of certification bodies. A product holding a CB certificate from one member body can obtain the certification marks of another, thus paving the road to acceptance and recognition by authorities in more than 50 countries.
Step 3: Identify Local Representation Requirements
Some situations require local representation as a condition of acceptance. In other cases, having someone on the inside is helpful, though not required. In-country representation could include: a company-owned manufacturing or sale site within a country's borders, a distributor operating in a country, or an in-country paper holding agency.
It's important to understand the testing process beyond specific products and know whether in-country representation is required for or prior to application in a given area. If so, it's critical to know what kind of representation and to what degree. Consider whether local suppliers and distributors meet inspection requirements, if literature and labeling is in the correct language, and who needs to coordinate follow-up inspections, if required.
Step 4: Understand What's Mandatory and What's Voluntary
Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) decide what is mandatory and what is voluntary for product compliance in a given country. Regulations and laws are continually changing, based on politics, policies, or knowledge about product recalls or unsafe substances. Therefore, it's important to verify what is required for a product and what is of benefit but not necessary.
To make such determinations, it's important to understand the process for the country in question. Know the appropriate AHJ for a product in a given location, recognizing that there may be more than one. Think broadly. Requirements often extend beyond testing into areas such as inspections, documentation, and labeling. Keep in mind the source of the rules and regulations; it's a country's government, not your compliance partner(s).
It may seem that money can be saved by not complying with voluntary standards. While this may be true, non-compliance to these voluntary standards could also result in consumers not purchasing your product. Voluntary compliance can enhance brand identity, marketplace acceptance, and product quality. Saving money through selective non-compliance is a slippery slope.