WASHINGTON-Brazil, following on the heels of Mexico, has a national tire certification law pending that could severely hamper the importation of foreign-made tires into the country. Saudi Arabia and China also have tire quality assurance programs on the books, and tire manufacturers and exporters fear other countries soon will follow suit.
The Brazilian rule, Regulation 171, was issued last December by the National Institute of Metrology, Standardization and Industrial Quality (INMETRO), the accreditation body of the Brazilian System of Certification.
Under Regulation 171, no vehicle tire may enter Brazil after June 1 of this year without bearing the Brazilian System of Certification ``conformity mark.'' No tire can bear this mark unless it has been certified for safety and quality by a Brazilian authority.
All tires currently in Brazil that do not bear the conformity mark must be sold by the end of July.
Brazil has two domestic tire companies: Ind£stria JoÃo Maggion S.A. and Rinaldi S.A. Goodyear, Groupe Michelin, the Pirelli Group and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. also have facilities there.
Tire makers without Brazilian plants, however, are facing either expensive, redundant testing requirements or severance from the world's third-largest tire market, according to Steve Butcher, vice president-technical and standards for the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
``The Brazilian law means we will have to bring in their officials, at our expense, to certify our operations,'' Mr. Butcher said. ``We will also have to pay for an export license.'' This doesn't even take into consideration the cost of recasting molds to incorporate the Brazilian conformity mark.
Brazilian tire safety standards are very similar to those already promulgated by the U.S. Depart- ment of Transportation and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, according to Mr. Butcher. So the Brazilian certification rules have little or no bearing on safety.
Tire exporters face even worse problems. ``We cannot afford to spend money in conformity marks,'' said Antonio Gonzalez, CEO of Tire Group International Ltd., in an April 15 letter to TIRE BUSINESS.
``Even if we could, the additional cost of these tests will render our tires non-competitive against the locally manufactured product,'' Mr. Gonzalez said. ``Brazil will be lost as an export market.''
Based in Miami, TGI exports about 40 different brands of tires to Latin America. Exports to Brazil account for one-third of the company's business, he said.
``Clearly, Regulation 171 is a not-so-veiled attempt at stopping imports, with their high quality and lower prices, from taking market share away from local (Brazilian) producers,'' he said.
In a March 12 letter to INMETRO, Mr. Butcher said the RMA sees ``no need to constitute a new conformity assurance system and marking scheme which are redundant to internationally recognized programs already in place.''
At least INMETRO should consider moving the effective date of the conformity mark requirement to June 1, 1997, and the sell-off date for non-conforming tires to Jan. 1, 1998, Mr. Butcher said.
In a March 26 reply, INMETRO Director Wilson Oliviera said his agency will review Regulation 171 in May.
Brazil does not recognize the ``Manufacturer Declaration'' the DOT requires of tire makers in the U.S., Mr. Oliviera said, but it does recognize tire safety testing performed by the DOT and the ECE.
This statement could point to a loophole for most tire makers, according to Mr. Butcher. ``The DOT does little tire testing on its own, but the ECE does, and most of our members have been certified under that,'' he said.
While the Saudi and Chinese tire regulations haven't yet made themselves felt, the move toward separate national tire standards will only grow, according to Mr. Butcher. The only effective solution may be institution of internationally recognized tire standards.
The Transatlantic Automotive Industry Conference, held in Washington earlier this month, proposed international harmonization of automotive safety and quality standards. Among the standards listed for priority consideration were tire selection and rims. But this process could take years, and the next meeting is not scheduled until November.
If the conference won't produce an international tire standard, perhaps the International Standards Organization will, according to Mr. Butcher. ``The ISO has tire testing, but no tire certification standard,'' he said.
The main problem in developing an international standard, he added, is getting sovereign nations to agree to abolish their certification rights. ``The most reluctant country in this regard may well be the U.S.,'' he said.
Ironically, Mexico-``the country that got the ball rolling,'' according to Mr. Butcher-has backed down somewhat on its tire certification standards.
On March 18, Mexico reached agreement with the U.S. to accept tires tested in U.S. laboratories ``approved'' by the DOT. Still pending is a final rule allowing U.S. tire makers to use paper labels to list safety information in Spanish.