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A Conversation with OIRA Administrator Shelanski on International Regulatory Cooperation with Canada

Leading up to the U.S.- Canada RCC Meetings on May 4-5, OIRA Administrator Howard Shelanski provides his take on the future of international regulatory cooperation.

Editor’s Note: Leading up to the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Meetings on May 4-5, I sat down with Howard Shelanski, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget, to discuss the importance of international regulatory cooperation and provide his take on the future of the U.S. - Canada RCC. A summary of the conversation is below.

Q. Why does the Administration think international regulatory cooperation is important?  What is the significance of the RCC?

International regulatory cooperation can help the United States and partner countries protect our Nations’ health, safety, labor, security and environment, while also reducing or preventing unnecessary differences in regulatory requirements. Understanding the importance of international regulatory cooperation, the President issued Executive Order 13609, “Promoting International Regulatory Cooperation,” which created “regulatory cooperation councils” (or RCC). The establishment of the RCC structure was an important step in strengthening bilateral regulatory cooperation between the United States and Canada.  The RCC facilitates closer cooperation between our two countries to develop smarter and more effective approaches to regulation that make the United States and Canadian economies stronger and more competitive while maintaining the fundamental responsibilities to protect the safety and welfare of our citizens.

Q. Can you provide an update on the steps that the United States and Canada have taken since you last held a joint RCC Stakeholder meeting?

Since the last meeting in October 2014, the United States’ regulatory cooperation partnerships with Canada have made great progress towards important goals – from aligning U.S. and Canadian industrial and commercial energy efficiency standards, potentially avoiding millions of dollars in unnecessary costs, to promoting data and information sharing.

The Regulatory Partnership Statements (RPSs) published jointly by Federal agencies within the United States and Canada provide a measure of this progress. RPSs provide the framework for how U.S. and Canadian agencies will manage cooperative activities, establishing high-level governance mechanisms, opportunities for stakeholder engagement, and annual review of Work Plans.

Examples of the progress achieved through these Regulatory Partnership Statements and Work Plans include:

  • Publication of the first joint U.S. - Canada national standards for personal flotation devices on December 31, 2015. The standards, once adopted into regulation, will allow lifejacket manufacturers to market one lifejacket that complies with the boating safety laws of both countries.
  • Formation of multi-stakeholder working groups in April 2015 to help agencies align chemical regulatory processes, specifically through the development of common approaches to emerging risk issues and to regulatory reporting requirements for new uses of chemicals.  The United States and Canada are working to better and more efficiently protect public health and the environment by more consistently and predictably aligning our efforts to share expertise and minimize the duplication of efforts on chemical assessment, scientific tools, and regulatory processes.
  • Cooperation between the U.S. Department of Transportation and Transport Canada to harmonize their May 2015 flammable liquid tank car standards, including retrofit and timeline requirements for older tank cars. This initiative will provide producers and refiners access to valuable cross-border markets while improving public safety during the transport of dangerous goods by rail in both countries. 
  • Health Canada’s (HC) expansion of the range of medical devices that it permits to carry electronic labeling. This change better aligned HC’s criteria with that of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while also benefiting both industry and consumers by making the storage, management, and retrieval of information more efficient and convenient.
  • Continued collaboration between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Health Canada continue to collaborate on the alignment of hazard classification and requirements for labeling workplace chemicals, without reducing the level of safety or protection to workers. The new global system for Hazard Communication will enhance worker comprehension of hazards, reduce confusion in the workplace, facilitate safety training, and result in safer handling and use of chemicals. Through the joint work of OSHA and HC, manufacturers will soon be able to provide one label and safety data sheet for workplace chemicals regardless of whether they are produced or sold in the U.S. or Canada.

Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of the RCC?

International regulatory cooperation is a fairly new effort globally so our work with Canada has allowed us to explore and test concepts.  One of the most challenging aspects is communicating all of the work being done under the umbrella of ‘regulatory cooperation.’  Many people think it’s only about aligning our regulations, but it is actually much more. 

The United States and Canada are cooperating in a variety of different ways that don’t always get a lot of attention. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Canadian Fisheries and Oceans are doing a series of comparability assessments  to determine the environmental impacts of potential farmed to wild fish interactions; the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada have a unique Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway initiative to minimize the number of duplicative inspections on vessels operating in these shared waterways; and the FDA and Health Canada are coordinating on several simultaneous reviews for veterinary drug applications.

Aligning rulemakings might be a goal for some of the RCC initiatives, but if that is all we are thinking about, we are selling regulatory cooperation short.

Q. What do you hope the U.S.-Canada RCC can accomplish before the end of the Obama Administration?  Will the RCC live beyond the Obama Administration?

I am proud of our two countries’ accomplishments to date, for which I give a lot of credit to our partners in Canada.  The Joint Forward Plan we released in August 2014 represented a big step toward institutionalizing bilateral regulatory cooperation between Canada and the United States.

I will continue to work with our U.S. agencies and our Canadian colleagues to fulfill the commitments made during this Administration, including launching new or modified Work Plans by early summer, and encourage everyone, stakeholders included, to look well-beyond the end of this Administration to establish long-term objectives.

International regulatory cooperation should be a routine, ingrained practice between U.S. and Canadian regulatory authorities. It is an important economic and regulatory policy tool that has resulted in unprecedented dialogue among regulators and provided an opportunity to remove or reduce unnecessary differences and duplicative requirements across a range of areas. Our joint work to date makes a very strong case for the benefits of international regulatory cooperation, and this Administration remains committed to institutionalizing the practice so it continues to benefit both nations into the future.

Emily Cain is the Deputy Associate Director for Strategic Planning and Communications​ at the Office of Management and Budget.