Key personnel of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) were put to the test during last week’s 2015 Annual Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla.

During an “Ask the Staff” panel presentation, seven staff members fielded a dozen or so questions from about 100 attendees on a range of topics that included park model RVs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the expired Generalized System of Preferences program and the “harmonizing” of U.S. and Canadian standards.

Serving as moderator was RVIA Senior Director of Communications Bill Baker, who said the panel Q&A was designed “to better inform the members of what we do as an association and the value we bring to you and what you do in your business.”

Members of the RVIA panel included: James Ashurst, vice president of communications, marketing and shows; Robert “Mac” Bryan, vice president of administration; Richard Coon, president; Dianne Farrell, vice president of government affairs; Bruce Hopkins, vice president of standards; Craig Kirby, vice president of international business and general counsel; and Matt Wald, executive director of park model RVs.

The park model discussion centered around HUD’s January decision to not require that porches be included in the 400-square-foot limit on park model RVs – a regulation that would have been crippling to the industry – until new regulations are published. Farrell applauded the move, but noted, “it’s far from a done deal.”

She said a HUD advisory committee has suggested a new definition, but it typically will take about five years for HUD to issue a ruling. The RVIA, with a consortium of other related groups, have requested a more accelerated timeline. Even then, she cautioned, a ruling could still take about two years.

Because of this, they have backed off on legislation introduced last year that addressed this issue. Farrell said this gives HUD the “breathing space” it needs for the process to develop outside of Congress.

Farrell also responded to two questions regarding the Generalized System of Preferences, which expired in 2013. GSP provided duty-free treatment to selected goods imported from more than 130 developing countries. Luan, found in many RVs and only available in southeast Asia, was part of this program. The absence of GSP is costing some manufacturers tens of thousands of dollars a month.

For several years, RVIA has been participating with the Coalition for GSP, a Washington, D.C.-based group of U.S. businesses, trade associations and consumer organizations seeking the reinstatement of the GSP program. 

“It’s not an issue, unfortunately, where RVIA on its own is going to move the needle. It’s a broader issue and we’re not going to be the primary movers of it, but we can certainly be a player and bring a network of legislative contacts that add value to the coalition,” she said.

Ultimately, GSP is an issue that’s fallen victim to the politics of Washington, she said, and “nothing is happening” despite efforts.

Hopkins provided a thorough status report on uniting the building standards between NFPA 1192 in the U.S. and CSA Z240 in Canada. He said the goal of ultimate harmonization in 2017 remains on target.

“I think we got 95% done of what we needed to do to get the two standards aligned with each other. There’s still a few issues that are out there but we gained a couple of really important ones for the manufacturers,” Hopkins explained, citing that both countries are now allowing foam core ABS plastic and interior propane fittings as two examples. “Those are two huge ‘gets’ that we didn’t have before that companies had to manufacture around.”

Although there will always be differences that cannot be overcome, Hopkins said the next step is to get members of the NFPA 1192 and CSA Z240 committees to work together on further developing a unified standard.

“The objective is really for in 2017 to end up with one document that would have all the requirements in it for all of North America,” Hopkins said.