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With the imminent end of the transition period after the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, unexpected and perhaps worrying scenarios are opening up with regard to standardisation and, specifically, the UK’s compliance with European standards once the current transitional year is over.
In general, it is clear that different rules between the EU and the UK regarding standards to be followed in product manufacturing have the potential to create major technical barriers to trade, which would undoubtedly have the greatest impact and damage on SMEs. This is because SMEs do not have the means, neither economic nor otherwise, to be able to meet new specific rules at national level. This will be especially striking after the EU has been working for decades to create a common level field for all Member States to ensure the success of the Common Market.
SBS has already expressed its position on the future UK-EU relationship negotiations, explaining how it considers the UK’s participation in the EU standardisation system and compliance with Regulation 1025/2012 to be essential for the protection of SME and to prevent harmful barriers to trade. Going into detail, this article aims to explain what the consequences and developments might be in the lift sector and for its SMEs.
The British lift market
The British lift market is smaller than other EU markets: in fact, the UK has neither major local lift manufacturers nor so many component manufacturers to protect and support. On the contrary, it is a market that is essentially based on installation and maintenance of systems produced in the vast majority outside the UK. For this reason, the logical conclusion even after Brexit would be to continue to abide by the lift safety rules of the common European market and its standards. This would allow to continue to enjoy the benefits of common legislation regarding complex machinery not so extensively manufactured in the UK for its own internal market. In this sense, the development of internal rules for the UK market alone, different to those of the rest of the Continent, would lead to the creation of a highly particular UK market, which would create unnecessary and harmful barriers to trade. In such a strictly national market, lift SMEs might find themselves in serious difficulty in carrying out their daily work, suddenly having to deal with different rules, without being able to count on the great advantages, also in terms of level playing field, that common rules bring them.
Moreover, the English market is a small market based on a particular building landscape. On the one hand, especially in the rural areas prevalent in the UK, there are low houses of a few floors, which do not require lifts. On the other hand, there are multi-storey condominiums in urban areas that need uncommon lifts, such as luxury systems in skyscrapers in large cities or complex systems to prevent potential damages caused by vandals in social housing (currently regulated by EN 81-71:2018 “Safety rules for the construction and installation of lifts. Particular applications to passenger lifts and goods passenger lifts. – Vandal resistant lifts”). We are therefore talking about environmental conditions adverse to a standard lift system, and about a market in itself with unique peculiarities, which would risk becoming even more particular if there were to be any divergence between European standardisation and a possible British version.
Consequences for European and British lift SMEs
At a general level, for all companies involved in the UK market, whether large or small, different rules, conformity assessments, recognition marks, etc., at the national level, would create technical barriers to trade, as it was before the implementation of the EU Common Market. This would have obvious consequences on production costs and product prices.
One of the most significant potential barriers to trade, not considering a return to a duty regime or similar policies here, is the adoption of the new UKCA marking.
The UK decision to use this new marking will require that, after the end of the current adjustment period, certain products, lifts included, are certified by some recognised body in the UK, a notified body or a counterpart. This could lead to new costs and new documentation under UK national regulations for all companies wishing to trade across the Channel. In practical terms, it means that a non-British company will have to bear the burden of double documenting the conformity of its product, the CE marking and the UKCA marking. Its product may already be CE certified, but it cannot be placed in the UK if it is not UKCA certified. Hence, it will be worryingly easy to incur in a range of new costs and duplicate procedures to be able to export to the UK. Even if the EU and the UK requirements are the same, the new situation will nevertheless lead to a double marking and its expenses. These are costs and delays that an SME cannot afford.
As explained, basically, we expect that the safety prescriptions relevant for the lift sector will remain the same, even in case of a different marking. What will change is who will have to do the conformity checks and what are the procedures to do these checks.
The problem is therefore the potential new costs that the UKCA mark could create. While the products themselves, i.e. the hardware, will remain virtually what they are, it is the paperwork part that may be affected, as well as some ancillary equipment that needs to be provided with the lift. The European Commission is making sure that the new version of European Lift standards fully comply with the requirements of the Lift Directive , including those that ask to specify all the detailed list for what needs to be provided together with the lift: such as special tools for rescue and/or maintenance, detailed instructions with plans for maintenance. The UK may decide not to accept standards that include this EU guidance, to protect the major companies in the UK market, to the detriment of free competition and consumer expectations.
Nonetheless, the requirements of the Lift Directive are going to be laid down in ISO 8100-20, at international level. If the UK does not want to follow the guidance from the Lift Directive, it will also have difficulties not to follow those similar requirements that would be laid down in the lift standard ISO 8100 – 20, which may have Global Relevance at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) international level. WTO rules, supported by the Technical Barrier-Free Trade (TBT) Treaty, would not allow UK to implement a Technical Regulation for lifts that is in conflict with both the EU Lift Directive and the ISO 8100-20 standard for lifts that has Global Relevance according to the TBT Treaty.
At the moment, the consequences of Brexit on the lift sector, as it is currently the case, translate into a problem of procedure and conformity assessment and of new, maybe high costs, more than anything else. In fact, new economic hurdles for companies, especially for SMEs, could result from the procedures and costs of double conformity and double marking, CE and UKCA.