Mutual Recognition Arrangements/Agreements (MRAs) are government-to-government arrangements. They facilitate trade by promoting the mutual acceptance of conformity assessment results for telecommunications equipment. The term "telecommunications equipment" is used as a generic term covering both wireline (i.e. terminal attachment) and wireless (i.e. radio) equipment.
Below is a brief outline of the history of MRAs for telecommunications equipment in Canada, their recognition procedures and controlling mechanisms.
- MRAs – Yesterday to now
- Introducing MRAs
- Implementing MRAs
- Controlling mechanisms in MRAs
- Audit guidelines for certification bodies (CBs)
MRAs – Yesterday to now
The first telecom-only MRA Canada signed was with Korea. It was signed in January 1997 during a trade mission led by the Prime Minister to Korea. This MRA activity was driven by Canadian industry complaints of non-transparency in accessing the Korean market and allegations of design copying and fraud under the guise of requiring very detailed product design material. One significant side benefit of MRAs is that it makes the whole market access process very transparent, which is an essential component of Canadian competitiveness in the international marketplace.
In 1998, a Canada/EU MRA came into effect. It has a framework agreement along with 6 sectoral annexes including telecommunications. The EFTA countries (Norway, Iceland & Liechtenstein) and Switzerland are not part of the EU but they use the same regulations as the EU. With the EU/Canada MRA in place, Canada also negotiated the same MRA with the EFTA and Switzerland. All three MRA's are binding treaties.
In June 1998, APEC leaders endorsed the development of a multi-lateral telecommunications MRA to facilitate trade in the APEC region. This is a non-binding ‘arrangement', as opposed to a binding ‘agreement', covering 21 economies. Participation in this MRA is voluntary. At the APEC TELMIN6 meeting (June 2005, Lima) and on behalf of the Minister of Industry, Carol Swan, the then Associate Deputy Minister, congratulated the APEC TEL Ministers on their progress on the APEC TEL MRA and endorsed a proposal to move forward with negotiation of a new MRA on Technical Requirements, which is now a work in progress in APEC TEL.
The Canada-Korea MRA was replaced by the APEC TEL MRA in 2002, using updated procedures provisioned in the APEC TEL MRA.
With the support of the U.S.A. and the Canadian industry, Canada led the effort to develop the Inter-American MRA within OAS CITEL. This MRA is identical to the APEC TEL MRA and covers the 34 member states of the OAS . It is also non-binding and participation is voluntary. The executive committee of CITEL endorsed this MRA in December 1999 and the CITEL Assembly endorsed it in June 2000.
There are two "Phases" to the MRA process. Phase I is mutual recognition of test reports. Phase II is mutual recognition of certification. In each case the MRA parties recognize each other's competence to carry out their regulatory testing and/or certification.
In Canada's telecom regulatory system, initially the authority to issue certificates rested solely with the Minister of Industry and was delegated and performed only by government labs. In the late 1990s, the Telecom Regulations and Radiocomm Regulations were modified to allow the Minister of Industry to delegate the authority of issuing certificates to recognized certification bodies. This was a required step to implement Phase II of all the MRAs.
For the EU, EFTA and Swiss MRAs, implementation began for Phase I (test report) in July 1999 and for Phase II (certification) in January 2002. For APEC TEL and CITEL MRAs, since they are voluntary, Canada had to notify the appropriate committee of APEC TEL and CITEL when it was ready to implement with another economy or country.
The term Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) refers to test laboratories and certification bodies. These are private sector companies specializing in the verification of compliance of telecom equipment with technical regulations.
In Canada, a domestic CAB who wishes to test or certify equipment to domestic or foreign technical requirements has to apply to the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) which is the accreditation body for Canada, or any other MRA appointed accreditation organization (e.g. ANSI, A2LA and NVLAP in the US). SCC accredits the CAB in accordance with the requirements of the international ISO/IEC standard 17025 for test labs and ISO/IEC Guide 65 for certification bodies. SCC uses a team of assessors; and experts from Industry Canada's Certification & Engineering Bureau (the Bureau) are often asked to act as assessors. SCC issues ISO certificates to successful CABs. It is an important element of MRAs that competence of test labs or certification bodies is established based on international standards.
For domestic requirements, accredited CABs seeking IC recognition send the required information to Industry Canada (IC). For foreign requirements, accredited CABs seeking foreign recognition send the required information to IC for designation to partner countries. Designation by IC means IC agrees with the accreditation results and indicates to our MRA partners that IC stands behind the designated CABs and that they are competent to perform testing or certification of equipment to our partners technical requirements. Industry Canada forms an ad hoc committee for each CAB application to review the information and to determine whether IC should recognize or designate the CAB.
Foreign CABs wishing to test or certify equipment to Canadian technical requirements must apply to an MRA appointed accreditation organization to be accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 and/or ISO/IEC Guide 65. Using a similar evaluation process as the SCC in Canada, the appointed accreditation organization issuesISO certificates to successful foreign CABs. Accredited CABs then submit to their designating authority an application for recognition to Canadian requirements. In the US, the designating authority is NIST (National Institute of Standards and technology) - an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce which develops and promotes measurement, standards, and technology.
There is no concept of "rules of origin" in any of the MRAs. A CAB can test or certify equipment manufactured anywhere in the world as long as it has gone through the appropriate designation and recognition process.
Controlling mechanisms in MRAs
Processes are in place in the MRAs to ensure the CABs maintain their competency and perform their duties. According to ISO/IEC 17011, each CAB has to be reassessed every 2 years in order to maintain its accreditation.
Processes are also in place to address delinquent or misbehaving CABs. Once a problem with a foreign recognized CAB has been identified, IC notifies both the CAB and its designating authority of the problem. If the problem is not resolved IC can ask the designating authority to remove the designation of the CAB and IC can also remove the recognition of that CAB. If the designating authority is non responsive, IC can withdraw from the implementation of the MRA by giving a 6 month notice in writing.
For handling of non-compliant products and equipment, there are specified communication protocols described in the MRAs and related procedure documents. The section below outlines the steps taken in the case of product non-compliance.
Audit guidelines for certification bodies (CBs)
In addition to the controlling mechanisms specified in the section above the CBs are also required to audit a minimum of 5% of the products they certify on an annual basis.
Where, as a result of post-certification audit or other information obtained by the CB or by the Department, a certified device fails to meet IC requirements, or where there is reasonable evidence that a certified device is creating electromagnetic interference or not operating in accordance within the parameters described on the Certificate, the CB informs the Department and the certificate holder is required to take remedial action.
In the notification by the CB, the information submitted to the Bureau will include:
- a copy of the certificate that was issued for the subject equipment.
- a follow-up report of the corrective action taken or to be taken by the certificate holder (to be submitted to the Bureau by the CB within 30 days after the notification of non-compliance has been sent to the Bureau)
If the certificate holder does not take remedial action, the certification is withdrawn by the CB, and the Department removes the equipment from the Radio Equipment List. The Department also requires that all the offending equipment be removed from service and no longer be made available for sale or distribution in Canada.
Decertification takes place only after full consultation between the Bureau, the CB and the certificate holder.
The Bureau may request test reports of audit and surveillance activities from a CB. The CB submits such reports to the Bureau within thirty (30) days of a request.
The Bureau may also request the CB to conduct additional testing on targeted products.
It is required that Foreign Designating Authorities notify the Department immediately of any changes that may affect the continued ability of a recognized foreign CB to carry out the activities for which it was recognized. In addition, when a recognized foreign CB is the subject of an investigation for non-compliance, a recognition suspension may be issued upon consultation with the Foreign Designating Authority. The Foreign Designating Authority requires the CB to take immediate corrective action to the Department's satisfaction.
In addition, when a recognized foreign CB is the subject of an investigation for non-compliance, a recognition suspension may be issued upon consultation with the Foreign Designating Authority. The Foreign Designation Authority requires the CB to take immediate corrective action to the Department's satisfaction.
Where it is found that a recognized CB does not comply with the IC recognition requirements the recognition may be withdrawn. Such action takes place only after full consultation between the Department and the Foreign Designating Authority.
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