The IT sector, among others, could benefit from common regulations across jurisdictions and key trading partners, especially considering Canada’s small economy cannot afford to waste the resources of regulators, product manufacturers and distributors, said an expert on international trade.

“In very few cases, can you make a case for a completely-made-in-Canada set of regulations,” said Kathleen
Macmillan, president of International Trade Policy Consultants Inc.

Macmillan recently voiced these concerns in a report, entitled Regulatory Cooperation: A Practical Action Plan, written for the Conference Board of Canada’s international trade and investment centre in Ottawa.

There is a lot of potential to create regulations with trading partners such as the U.S. and with whom Canada shares similar attitudes towards product safety, environmental integrity and consumer protection, said Macmillan to ComputerWorld Canada.

Looking further, she added, there is a strong case for international standards where Canadian products are globally produced and consumed.

Macmillan thinks Canadian regulators could be making greater effort to learn from successful common regulations at the international level. But the problem is Canadians tend to get “extremely touchy” about sovereignty issues if regulations were to be shared or adopted, she said.

“(We) feel that if we adopt or recognize U.S. standards, that would somehow erode our national independence,” said Macmillan.

That said, before we even look to cooperating with foreign trading partners, Macmillan said there already exists jurisdictional barriers within Canada itself as well as opposition laid out by regulators who get attached to the regulations they administer.

One successful international case that Macmillan cites is an agreement between the European Commission and mobile device manufacturers who adopted common regulations that would standardize mobile device chargers.

“In my household, there’s a cardboard carton of discarded (chargers),” said Macmillan, referring to the lack of such a common regulation in North America.

According to Bernard Courtois, president and CEO of Ottawa-based Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), the telecommunications sector has long recognized the value of common regulations and has successfully exercised it. But the same cannot be said for e-health.


When it comes to electronic medical records, the mistake was to think solely of the end user needs—doctors and nurses—and nothing of the survivability of the commercial product, said Courtois.

“Instead we have now developed a Tower of Babel of standards all different in each province,” said Courtois.

We failed to think internationally for e-health and have now unfortunately created “dead-end products” where the lack of viable products means end users will have to rip and replace technology every time.

Courtois said governments around the world are trying to generate economic growth, and that country-specific regulations are a barrier to growth that cost nothing to remove. “They really exist because people start looking at their own requirements before they look at harmonizing,” he said.

Macmillan said the relatively small size of Canada’s economy means we cannot afford to waste resources on inefficient processes. “The way our economies are evolving, we are in the business of producing things together,” she said.

But she only hopes the Canadian government is concerned enough about this to change it for the better. “It’s something that is terribly important,” she said.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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