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Japan, EU to harmonize vehicle safety standards

TOKYO -- Japan, the European Union, Australia and other economies will adopt common benchmarks for automobile safety as early as the spring of next year, a move likely to free up international trade in new cars by shortening inspections.

     A broad agreement covering 40 of roughly 60 points on safety inspection checklists is expected to be reached at a meeting of the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations in Geneva next month.

     South Africa, Russia and Ukraine have also expressed a readiness to join the deal. The U.S. is set to remain an outlier in vehicle safety standards, while China, the world's biggest market for autos, has indicated that it will not join.

     The agreement would include such criteria as seat belt strength and the stiffness of the hood, or bonnet, a factor in pedestrian safety. With common standards, cars bound for export would need only domestic safety inspections, obviating the need for another round of checks after shipment.

     This would not only save automakers the expense of inspections, but also allow for greater standardization of parts. Common standards would thus "help reduce production costs," according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. And since inspection periods would shorten from several months to as little as one, manufacturers could get new models to market faster.

     The more countries that adopt the common standards, the better for Japanese automakers competing in the global market. Japan will step up lobbying for the agreement in Southeast Asia, where Thailand and Malaysia are apparently starting to consider signing on.

(Nikkei)

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