Trade barriers in Chinese tyre exports
By Gregers Lindvig
It was tempting to continue exploring developments in the Chinese tyre production for this issue, but I managed to land on trade barriers for their export instead. This was spawned by a recent trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where we exhibited at the Pneus Expo in late April.
Anybody dealing in Chinese produced tyres knows that all around the world countries have taken measures to hinder or block the inflow of these “cheap products” in order to protect local manufacturers or established supply chains otherwise beneficial to the local economy. The most common method is, under pretence of being concerned with consumers’ safety, to initiate quality and safety certification standards. Nowhere is this more evident than in Europe where Chinese tyre exporters are met with REACH compliance requirements, EU label, ECE, and S-mark on top of fairly global requirements for DOT and production date marking.
Other markets all over the world are also seeing new requirements being initiated, especially labelling is becoming the big trend now. The US, which used to only require DOT and date stamp, is developing a tyre label similar to the European one, although focusing more on economy than safety for the consumers. Japan and South Korea seem to follow suit – interestingly all markets with major tyre production.
Normally these labels were intended to aim at increasing focus on safety, fuel consumption, noise levels, etc., in order for consumers to be able to make more informed choices when selecting their new tyres. In reality, as we have seen in statistics, they have not had a serious impact on buying decisions. This of course leads to strengthen my initial impression that their hidden agenda was in fact to focus on areas where locally produced tyres would show the best results. Just imagine having European tyres labelled for mileage/price per kilometre or an American tyre labelled for wet grip. Generally speaking, of course – there are always exceptions, but overall this would show very interesting results, as the American UTQG number is much higher than the European.
Hurting, not protecting
In some cases the labelling regulations have managed to hurt manufacturers instead of protect them. Due to a serious flaw in logic (dare I say common for EU bureaucracy?), winter tyres are tested under the same conditions and with the same requirements as summer tyres for the EU label. This means testing in only 5+ degrees Celsius, and wet grip tested instead of snow grip. The exception is tyres showing snow flake symbols on the sidewall, as they must be tested in actual snow, according to ECE 117.02 regulation. This label regulation meant that winter tyres from Nokian – the master of winter tyres – suddenly received very poor wet grip label ratings, and their attempts to launch their own “ice and snow performance” label was deemed illegal by the EU. The winter tyres that win the ADAC tests are basically all-season tyres, performing well in slush and wet, but not freezing roads. And Chinese winter tyres that in most cases perform well on snow and ice have warnings issued against them for the same reason.
Earlier, compounds could just be tweaked a bit to comply better on requirements for softness or hardness, but with the introduction of label parameters and especially REACH in Europe, it is now a very complicated and serious science, as so many chemicals must be avoided.
(Full Text in PTA Aug/Sep issue)