China confirmed during the 23rd Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (“JCCT”) that foreign-invested firms that provide third-party conformity assessment services (i.e., testing, inspection, and certification of compliance with voluntary standards and technical regulations) will be able to register in China to provide such services in relation to the China Compulsory Certificate (“CCC“) safety and quality mark. China also confirmed that China’s review of applications from foreign-invested firms to participate in CCC mark activities will use the same conditions as those applicable to Chinese domestic entities. The CCC Mark is a mandatory safety and quality mark for products sold in the Chinese market.

If China keeps to its commitments, and if non-Chinese providers of conformity assessment services persist in seeking approval to conduct CCC mark-related work, this JCCT outcome could prove highly significant for U.S. manufacturers. At present, approximately 20 percent of all U.S. exports to China are delayed by China’s CCC mark requirements. Greater foreign participation in the CCC mark process could reduce the time to market by as much as nine months.

Since August 2003, the China has required the CCC mark on 132 categories of products before they are exported to or sold in China. The requirement has been a persistent irritant in U.S.-China trade since its introduction. U.S. companies have complained about lack of clarity in the regulations, inconsistent and discriminatory application of the CCC mark requirements, and the duplicative nature of safety certification requirements, particularly for telecommunications equipment, medical devices, and automobiles.

When it joined the WTO, China committed to provide non-discriminatory treatment to majority foreign-owned providers of conformity assessment services seeking to operate in China. As of last year, however, only six foreign-owned (one U.S.-based) firms are accredited to provide conformity assessment services related to the CCC mark.

Because China requires testing for a wide range of products, and all such testing must be conducted in China, U.S. manufacturers and exporters often must submit their products to Chinese laboratories for tests that may be unnecessary or that have already been performed abroad. Greater foreign participation in CCC mark activities could significantly reduce delays, duplication, and unnecessary testing. An additional benefit for many manufacturers will be the added security gained from the use of a trusted, non-Chinese company to examine, test, and certify its products for the Chinese market.

China’s commitment on CCC mark-related work is not self-implementing. Resistance by the Chinese Certification and Accreditation Administration to further the opening of its process to foreign entities is to be expected. Accordingly, the key to enjoying the fruits of the commitments gained in this last JCCT is having more U.S. conformity assessment bodies and testing facilities submit applications to participate in CCC mark-related work, and pressing the U.S. government to quickly address any signs that the Chinese is not following through.