1700 Regulatory Approvals Revoked In South Korea

For the first time since its inception, the Korea Communications Commission this week revoked the regulatory approvals of 1,696 telecommunications devices from 378 companies, both foreign and domestic. Those companies must recall unsold inventory from the shelves, and prove conformity of existing products already sold. In addition, the companies may not submit new applications for these items for one year. It’s not clear what would happen to already-sold equipment if the manufacturer is unable to prove conformity as requested — perhaps a recall? Caught up in this are CCTV products, networking equipment, Bluetooth speakers, and drones from companies like Huawei, DJI, and even Samsung.

The heart of the issue are what’s known as Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) between countries to officially recognize of each other’s certification testing laboratories (or Conformity Assessment Bodies, CAB, in the lingo of the industry). Currently ten countries (USA, Canada, Mexico, UK, Israel, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and Australia), the 27 member states of the EU, Taiwan and Hong Kong all have MRAs with each other. Based on these MRAs, a Korean manufacturer could have a product tested by a laboratory in Israel, for example, and all would be kosher with the KCC.

At the center of attention is the Bay Area Compliance Laboratories (BACL), established in 1996 and headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. BACL has laboratories all over the world (USA, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and mainland China). Except for those in mainland China, all BACL laboratories are acceptable per the MRAs. The KCC received a tip last year that some compliance test reports for some products might be defective.

A six-month investigation in cooperation with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) resulted in the announcement this week. Korean companies, 378 of them to be exact, had submitted test reports from BACL Sunnyvale which appeared to be appropriate. But on further investigation, it was learned that the actual testing was done by BACL laboratories in mainland China and only the reports were prepared in Sunnyvale.

It’s not clear whether these companies were knowingly playing fast and loose with the rules, whether BACL was complicit, if it was just a misunderstanding of the intricacies of the regulations and MRAs, or a combination of all three. Regardless, the KCC said that intent doesn’t matter according the their rules. It also has not been suggested that the products themselves are problematic, nor has anyone suggested that BACL’s Chinese laboratories performed slipshod work — rather, the KCC says it has no choice but to proceed with the revocation based on the applicable laws.

40 thoughts on “1700 Regulatory Approvals Revoked In South Korea

  1. “Boss, our EMC testing failed.” “Well, just send it to China to get tested. They’ll pass anything.” Problem solved. I know a lot of bosses that would be ok with this.

    1. “Pass anything” has some truth to it, but not in my experience. China compliance labs recently caught two issues in my products (one immunity, one safety) that had previously passed at a USA lab. On the safety issue, it initially appeared to be a gray area, but the China lab [correctly] insisted it be resolved. And China labs have faster turn-around and better efficiency with testing – probably due to volume and automation. Would prefer to go-local, but it’s sometimes barely an option in a global economy.

      1. “China compliance labs recently caught two issues in my products”

        Anecdotal evidence relies only on personal observation, collected in a casual or non-systematic manner, uncorroborated by objective, independent evidence. Also, you assume that the rejected hardware has VALID compliance markings, a huge issue with Chinese products.

        1. Anecdotal evidence is valid when used against other anecdotal evidence

          ie. “My experience is that china will pass anything”, “I experienced the opposite”

  2. Well first the international chip shortage and now this, looks like a possible beginning to an end to world trade, maybe ? Sure someone else is thinking my same thoughts. Why aren’t we making more domestic products? Because we forgot how to do real work or are just too lazy to do it? We are out of various raw materials to make everything we need? I bet the biggest reason is the cost of the product at retail prices. And the there is the environmental reasons, we placed laws in affect that literally made it against the law to manufacture certain items because they are too detrimental to health, like Calif. with its Prop 65 !

    1. “looks like a possible beginning to an end to world trade, maybe?”


      This sort of comment is hard to respond to without seeming rude, because it really betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of basic microeconomic topics.

      You are correct that regulatory environment shifts production, though.

    2. ” Why aren’t we making more domestic products?” When Country A(merica) has people making things for $15 an hour and Country C(hina) has people making things for $15 a month and they have fairly unrestricted trade it doesn’t take Adam Smith to figure out in which country production will end up.

      1. But, … but …, many things are made by automated machines, not a bunch of low-paid down-trodden serfs. That is an old myth to justify some silly narrative. Two examples – car manufacturing (done by robots?) and SMD components placement (pick and place machines and reflow soldering?). BTW, are you sure the average salary of workers in C(hina) is $15/month? Please cite sources

        1. Also, there’s something called “environmental arbitrage” where it is cheaper to produce something in a country with no ENFORCED safety standards and where hazmat is just dumped in a hole, down the drain, or into the nearest river. For example, the reason rare earth metal production in the US shifted to China is because of dumping below cost by China AND because radioactive thorium is a byproduct of rare earth extraction from most ores and that’s a hazmat mitigation expense in the US.

        2. Just two questions, 1) Are things still manufactured by people? 2) Is the average wage of a worker producing products in China paid less than an average worker producing products in North America?

    3. “Why aren’t we making more domestic products?”

      The simplest explanation is cost of labour. It’s not the only reason but if I can make a product for $10 in one country and $1 elsewhere then I’ll choose the cheapest option. It makes my business more profitable, it makes my shareholders happy and it means I’m better positioned to undercut the competition which will come in handy as consumers are price-sensitive. Everyone wins except the workers in the high-salary country.

      If you want to bring manufacturing back to high-salary nations you’ll need to either reduce the human labour requirement (robot arms?) or find ways to justify the cost (premium brands etc.), but that first one doesn’t make more jobs.

      1. You could introduce a “Slave Labour” Tax, basically the difference in the cost of the product caused by the difference in labour costs is added to the product when it’s imported, “equalizing” the costs of imported goods and products to domestic ones and redistribute the proceeds to taxpayers (like that’ll happen).

        1. Too funny!! Sounds good but just 400 years too late. I think countries that spelled “labour” in that way just might need to stay silent on the issue of “Slave Labour.”

          1. Just a comment on your spelling aside, countries that spell labour “Labour” ended slavery, non-violently, in 1837 whereas countries that spell lab our “Labor” ended slavery in 1865 with massive bloodshed, maybe you should just keep your nose in your Webster’s. :)

        2. Yeah…Nah. That is the same as a tariff. It penalises overseas producers and allows local produces to continue their inefficient ways. In fact they usually get worse until eventually they collapse (might take decades though).

    4. “Why aren’t we making more domestic products?”

      Because profit is more important than patriotism now.
      Back in the cold war days, if you had a US company out sourcing manufacturing to Russia or China they would become a pariah, now trading with your defacto enemy is just good business.

      Now you get your fortune 100 companies manufacturing in Vietnam of all places.
      Once upon a time they did this in the USA.
      Now they will claim it’s cheaper elsewhere etc, but they are certainly not passing those costs on to you.
      But they out source it so middle and upper management cant take huge pay increases for boosting that all important share price, and the little guy well frankly F*** him.

      Meanwhile another company, small, USA based is making cheaper, better quality equivalent product in the USA, paying US workers and still making profit, but you’ve never heard of them because of that fortune 100 company’s epic marketing budget. Or the lobbying they make to get their products or solutions made into law despite there being better, cheaper, or more environmental friendly options.

      So, the simple answer to why things are not made at home is because big business lobbied government to allow them to out source jobs to the 3rd world and make free trade a thing thus their costs would be super low.
      And if you want to make a difference, research the stuff you buy and just flat out avoid buying ANYTHING from the fortune 100 people and all the companies they own and run under their umbrella.

      AKA you pretty much asked for this.

  3. After reading the article, this seemed far less severe than initially expected.

    At first I though South Korea made some law that made most if not all regulatory approvals in general void in South Korea. A thing I honestly wouldn’t put past politicians to be fair.

    But to see that the regulatory body decided to just take a very, very close look at the paper work and figure that specific products hadn’t been compliance tested according to governing laws is a thing I can’t do much more than consider as a good thing.

    Even though geographical restrictions on where a test can be done is a debatable topic in itself. But a compliance test after all needs to have both traceable calibrations, and adhere to some standard or another. To a degree, it is harder for the regulatory body to do due diligence outside of its jurisdiction, so it is understandable how the test results can be seen as void in a case like this unless a legal exception and proper procedures are enacted for such foreign certifications testing, an MRA in other words. Something that weren’t there in this case.

    1. The sense I get from my brief research in the few English language reports is that the products’s test results, the calibration lab certifications and standards traceability were not at all in question. It was strictly a matter of paperwork. But I could be wrong.

      1. I don’t question the test procedures, calibration, certifications nor results from the specific tests. Mainly since I haven’t seen them.

        But my comment is more in regards to the legal jurisdiction of regulatory bodies, and why it is logical for something to be on paper void if it can’t be inherently trusted by the regulatory body itself. It is a question if the lab in question is accredited or not.

        In short.
        There is a difference between:
        A lab having calibrated gear, knowing procedures, having certifications implying that they do things to a certain standard or in a certain way. (Ie, just a lab or production facility)
        A lab having the right to put a regulatory stamp of approval on a product. (An accredited test lab.)

        For an accredited test lab, the regulatory body needs to ensure that the lab follows procedures. And the regulatory body can’t do that if the lab in question is outside of its jurisdiction. Unless a legal exception and proper procedures are enacted for such foreign certifications testing.

  4. I find it strange that those licences were (possibly) revoked on a technicality, but the producers (who I assumed hired BACL in good faith) can now not resubmit for a year. I feel litigation coming up, making things worse for everyone but the lawyers.

    1. Not only can’t they resubmit the approvals for a year (meaning they can’t sell these products for a year), they have to resubmit proper test results ASAP for all the equipment in question that’s already in the hands of consumers. I don’t know what happens if a company doesn’t resubmit proper test results, or if the new test results show non-compliance.

      I wondered … suppose I was making a green, cube-shape Bluetooth speaker that got entangled in this mess. I’m prohibited from selling these for one year. Could I get around the “punishment” by making a new product (new SKU) that’s azure colored and is a cube with rounded instead of sharp corners? I suspect there’s a line somewhere to differentiate a similar product subject to this action and a new / different product entirely.

        1. @Morberis.
          As someone who does a lot of testing, mostly in China, I can’t believe the companies didn’t know. The labs do not hide stuff like this.
          If the lab is subcontacting internally, submit to a lab in the US sample sent to China for testing (I find this unlikely due to costs) they will tell you because it delays the results (or at least they would tell me).

    2. You’re right, something is missing here. That KCC organization cannot be judge and jury at the same time and severely punish 300+ companies just because some paperwork is done wrong in another company. The ‘sentence’ doesn’t seem into relation to the ‘infringement’. Very remarkable that all seems to point to the same organization BACL. Something is not told here…

      1. It certainly seems likely that there’s some backstory as to why this discrepancy was caught now; rather than during one of the affected submissions(and I’m guessing that there’s going to be some real drama between the affected companies and BACL; either a lot of distinct outfits are confused and/or attempting to play fast-and-loose or BACL was promising US tests to people who needed them for the Korean market or other reasons and quietly farming the work out to their less-well-recognized Chinese branch, in which case it’s going to be a contract law bloodbath); but this isn’t really a “KCC acting as judge and jury” situation:

        If the regulation is that you need some tests from a recognized CAB, either local or MRA-recognized, in order to receive the RF regulatory approval; discovering that a bunch of devices do not, in fact, have test results from a recognized CAB and so cannot have approvals is just a procedural matter. An atypically large one in this case, and probably one that will raise uncomfortable questions about how it got to 1,700 approvals prior to being recognized; but hardly a novel point of law or a delicate adjudication of guilt and innocence.

        My layman’s suspicion is that it’s not a good day to be BACL right now; unless almost 380 different companies(including Korean outfits like Samsung, who are neither clueless mom ‘n pop shops without legal expertise or unfamiliar with the local regulatory environment) mistakenly asked for the wrong testing service from BACL, which seems a trifle unlikely; the parsimonious assumption seems to be that BACL may have been…taking a few liberties…with how they executed the work they were contracted to do.

  5. I honestly never heard of the BACL. In my mind it only counts if it’s UL listed. Don’t care about Korea anyway, I don’t live there so I don’t have to worry about their regulatory laws.

    1. UL is in completely different category of testing focusing on fire safety. UL approval for a product is voluntary and not required by law like, say, the RF testing required by FCC which tries to ensure devices don’t interfere with each other out in the wild. That said, UL approval is often required by retail sellers for insurance reasons and in most cases it might as well be required.

      1. Incorrect information.

        UL, as do many other accredited North American labs (NRTL/SCC/NoM) offer EMC, environmental, HazLoc, energy efficiency, ISO registrar, and whatever other regulatory stuff that they can convince your company to spend $$$$$.

        There is no literal ‘UL approval’ required in the U.S. – what is required by both statutory and administrative law is that certain products for use in the work place or for use in a public venue be certified by an NRTL that is accredited by OSHA for the scope of that particular standard(s) and for that particular series of tests and that the production of the the certified equipment be subject to audits and recurring tests. See 29CFR1910.

  6. Not so fun fact regarding compliance testing; since Brexit the UK does not have a MRA with the EU, not sure if they have one with the other countries listed.

    Its an absoloute minefield as products (non-electrical at least) for UK and EU markets require duplicate testing!

    There could be a similar regulatory recall when people start to rrealise just how many products are nolonger technically compliant within the UK.

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