Apegga1c.gif (2007 bytes) The PEGG
June, 1999
Page 13 International Engineering Mobility Agreements
Lifting the Barriers to Cross-Border Movement

By Wendy Ryan-Bacon, P.Eng.

Wendy Ryan-Bacon, P.Eng.,
is the Canadian Council of
Professional Engineers’
Vice-President, International

Perhaps George Orwell was prescient after all. Although his nightmarish vision of a society ruled by the dictates of "Big Brother" seems less credible with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, his portrayal of the world’s future economic structure may be closer to the mark. In his well-known novel 1984, Orwell describes a world dominated by three large trading blocks. His portrayal of global economics is clearly wrong, but the reality of the European Economic Community, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) cannot be disputed.

These and other trade coalitions are affecting how we do business and making the international mobility of engineers more important. Also worth noting is the 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)—the first multilateral agreement to include professional services (such as engineering) in trade negotiation. More than 50 government signatories have made commitments to grant market access to engineering services, and there are rules in place regulating that access. GATS commits signatories to continuous liberalization through periodic negotiations. Scheduled for 2000, the next round is expected to bring increased rules in professional services, along with expanded opportunities for market access.

CCPE’s International Role

The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE) is the national federation of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the engineering profession in Canada. Its mandate is to assist member organizations in areas where national and/or international coordination is desired, including engineering education, the registration of engineers and the mobility of registered engineers. CCPE represents its member associations at the national and international level, negotiates international accreditation and recognition agreements with other engineering organizations and promotes rigorous international engineering standards. For example, the Canadian government has, and is expected to continue to, consult CCPE on GATS negotiations related to engineering.

With the trend toward international free trade and economic globalization, CCPE’s international initiatives have become increasingly important. CCPE’s Board of Directors in May 1997 established an International Affairs Committee (IAC), whose primary role is to achieve CCPE’s international goals. These are to:

  • promote rigorous international engineering standards that meet or exceed Canada’s own high standards;
  • gain international recognition of Canada’s standards, education accreditation and licensing systems for engineering;
  • facilitate international mobility for Canadian engineers, so that they can practice abroad without discrimination; and
  • ensure that foreign engineers coming to Canada have the qualifications necessary to meet our exacting standards of practice.

CCPE’s international activities are also supported by the work of several standing committees, which are comprised of volunteer engineers from across Canada. Two well-known CCPE committees are the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB), which accredits undergraduate engineering programs in Canada, and the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board (CEQB), which develops and maintains national guidelines for admission to the profession.

Mutual Recognition Agreements

Much of CCPE’s international activity involves the negotiation of mutual recognition agreements with other engineering organizations, which are aimed at ensuring that Canada’s engineering profession is well prepared for international free trade in engineering services (see sidebar below.) In Canada, engineering licensing bodies are unique in the breadth of legislative authority they have to regulate the profession, and registration is synonymous with licensing. In many other countries, there is a clear distinction between registration and licensing. For example, there is widespread registration of engineers in Australia and many European countries, but only limited licensing. In the United States, only those engineers who offer their services directly to the public must be licensed.

The wide variety of systems different jurisdictions use to register, certify or recognize engineers can make it difficult to negotiate mutual recognition agreements successfully. In CCPE’s case, this problem has resulted in the negotiation of agreements at three distinct levels.

First-level international agreements, such as CCPE’s agreement with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc. (ABET), the accreditation body for engineering education programs in the United States, are fairly straightforward, as they require a high degree of similarity to exist among the accreditation processes used in the jurisdictions of the signatories. The similarities between the accreditation processes used by CEAB and ABET are not surprising, given that CCPE relied heavily on the ABET procedures and criteria to establish its own process.

Second-level agreements also require a certain level of similarity in the accreditation processes used in the signatory jurisdictions, but focus primarily on the degree of similarity that exists between educational objectives and outcomes. The Washington Accord is this kind of agreement. The eight signatories to the accord have agreed to mutually recognize each other’s accreditation systems, even though their accreditation procedures and criteria differ widely in some respects.

Conversely, third-level agreements depend almost entirely on similarities among objectives and outcomes in the jurisdictions involved. In the case of engineering, the issue is whether the formation process produces competent engineers. These agreements are the most difficult to negotiate, because they require the signatories to agree on a mechanism to establish a degree of equivalency, even though their licensing and registration processes may differ widely. The NAFTA mutual recognition agreement for engineering between Canada, Mexico and the United States is an example of a third-level agreement.

In very general terms, mutual recognition means that one jurisdiction will accept the qualifications of a professional engineer licensed/registered in another jurisdiction, without any further assessment of technical competence and experience. On behalf of its constituent members, CCPE enters negotiations based on the following underlying premises:

  • any restrictions will be based on only competence and the protection of public health and safety;
  • there is a credible system to validate individual engineering competence; professional engineers in each jurisdiction are competent;
  • there is a clear understanding that CCPE can only recommend implementation of an agreement to its constituent members, but that every effort will be taken to ensure implementation.

International Accords Needed

In addition to achieving its primary international goals, there are other important reasons for CCPE to continue negotiating international agreements on behalf of Canada’s engineering profession. As a result of GATS, countries around the world are embracing global free trade of professional services. National governments are being encouraged to involve their self-regulating professions in discussions on this initiative, primarily to ensure that high professional standards are maintained following the implementation of GATS. In addition:

  • Once an agreement is in place, it minimizes the need for a laborious examination of the credentials of applicants seeking to register as professional engineers in Canada, provided they meet its provisions.
  • The negotiation and subsequent monitoring of an agreement provide opportunities to examine carefully the registration policies and criteria used in other countries, thereby accelerating the re-evaluation and improvement of our own system.
  • The pursuit of international agreements provides an awareness of engineering education and practice around the world, and the opportunity to share experiences on common issues.
  • Negotiations are a forum to promote Canadian policies and practices, as well as to influence the policies and practices used in other countries.

Since international agreements impact on the admission policies and practices of CCPE’s constituent members, they have the ultimate authority to approve or reject the implementation of an agreement in their respective jurisdictions. CCPE has no regulatory authority to obligate implementation, but close collaboration with our constituent members, combined with thoroughness of the negotiating process, subsequent monitoring and the exchange of information among jurisdictions should allow international agreements to be implemented successfully. In the long run, these agreements assist CCPE member organizations by facilitating their processes for determining whether foreign applicants for licensure meet their criteria.

From CCPE’s perspective, the key benefits of international agreements include facilitating international mobility for Canadian engineers, and helping to ensure that non-Canadian engineers seeking licensure in Canada are fully qualified. In other words, they enable Canadian engineers to take advantage of the opportunities created by international free trade, while also protecting public safety in Canada.

International agreements also increase the visibility of Canada’s rigorous engineering education accreditation processes, standards of engineering practice and engineering licensing system. The high-calibre and excellence of Canadian engineers is now recognized around the world. In addition, CCPE is developing strong ties with other international organizations, and best practices for the regulation of the engineering profession are being encouraged and fostered throughout the world.

Where to from here?

The current regulatory model for engineering in Canada has served us well for a long time, and is recognized as one of the best in the world. We are therefore able to expose our model to the scrutiny of other jurisdictions and defend it strongly. But as globalization continues and engineering practice changes, questions are beginning to surface. Can the Canadian model embrace emerging technologies, which is essential to ensure appropriate protection of the public? Is our model exclusive or inclusive? Is its mandate still relevant to all areas of practice? Why aren’t more engineering graduates seeking licensure?

These questions and many others must be asked, explored and answered as we move into the future. Our international activities can help us to look at the possibilities and options facing us.


The high-calibre and excellence of Canadian engineers is now recognized around the world.

Agreements assist CCPE member organizations by facilitating their processes for determining whether foreign applicants for licensure meet their criteria.

International agreements negotiated by the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers could make it easier for Canadian engineers to practice in other jurisdictions—and foreign engineers to practice in Canada. 

The current regulatory model for engineering in Canada has served us well for a long time, and is recognized as one of the best in the world

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