EUROPE: Responding to reports that Hitachi is planning to bid for a contract to supply 60 new EMUs for DB Regio’s Hamburg S-Bahn network, German railway suppliers’ association VDB and its French counterpart FIF issued a strongly-worded ‘declaration’ on March 15 demanding ‘a level playing field for international competition in the rail sector’.

In the light of protests by UNIFE following the selection of the Agility Trains consortium as preferred bidder for the UK’s Intercity Express Programme, the European Commission began developing legislative proposals on reciprocity, and started discussions with Japan about a free trade agreement.

VDB and FIF say there is evidence of ‘a strong imbalance’ between European markets that are ‘completely open for public tendering’ and those of other countries, which they claim ‘are absolutely closed to manufacturers coming from the EU’. This imbalance, they suggest, could damage employment in the European railway manufacturing sector at a time when ‘competition for railway contracts is accelerating and globalising’.

The associations feel that ‘under existing WTO agreements, Japanese firms do not enjoy any legal right’ to participate in European rail and public transport procurements, and suggest that governments and other bodies awarding public-sector contracts should take ‘all appropriate measures to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not used to promote such competitive imbalances’.

Urging both their national governments and the European Commission to press ahead with the negotiations with Japan, VDB and FIF suggest that any free trade agreement should start with the abolition of ‘non-tariff barriers’, notably the ‘so-called “operational safety clause”’ which they believe is ‘systematically invoked’ to exclude European products. More broadly, they want the EU ‘to put in place an efficient, uniform and sufficiently persuasive legislative tool that will guarantee genuine reciprocity in terms of access to the public markets of third countries’.