|Time to Take Stock
This months Plain Talk for a New Generation is, obviously, longer
than usual. The issues to be discussed are compelling and are
occurring in real time. They affect us directly; and they are
too important to be addressed in 800 words or less. They concern
the triennial review of the WTO TBT Agreement(1) and the operation
of the ISO/CEN(2) Vienna Agreement. I think they are related,
and that they deserve a full discussion in the same space.
Review of the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement
The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade requires that every
three years the TBT Committee review the operation and implementation
of the Agreement. This year, the Committee is engaged in its second
triennial review. There is every possibility that the review will
result in adjustments or amendments to the text. With a view to
that end, four international standards organizations, ISO, the
IEC,(3) ITU,(4) and UNECE,(5) have submitted statements to the
TBT Review Committee for their consideration.
Their messages to the Committee are essentially the same: international
standards that do not emanate from organizations that are structured
like theirs should not be recognized as such by the TBT. The statements
insist that unless a standards bodys membership is based on national
delegations, it is not a standards body whose international standards
are worthy of recognition in the context of the Agreement. Following
is a quote from the statement to the TBT Committee by ISO Secretary
General Dr. Lawrence D. Eicher:
We, like our colleagues in the IEC, want to stress that international
standards bodies have an obligation to respect the same principles
of membership and due process that form the basis for WTO membership,
as well as our own. Organizations that develop standards without
observing these principles should not expect them to enjoy recognition
as International Standards in the WTO context.
The ISO position (and that of the others) challenges that of the
United States Government, and therefore presents us with a dilemma.
The United States Trade Representative is the U.S. representative
to the WTO. This office has consistently advocated the position
that international standards worthy of inclusion in the context
of the WTO can indeed emanate from organizations that meet criteria
called for in the Agreement, criteria such as openness, transparency,
and a consensus process for development.
The TBT Agreement defines an international body or system as one
whose membership is open to the relevant bodies of at least all
Members. The ISO, along with the others, is seeking an interpretation
of this definition to mean one that fits their own, to the exclusion
of all others. Except, of course, those who might embrace the
principles of membership and due process that form the basis
for WTO membership as well as our own.
While WTO membership is based on government delegationsas are
the ITU and the UNECEISO and IEC are still technically non-governmental,
voluntary standards organizations, although they share a mission
statement with their government partner, the ITU. The analogy
and the fraternity is, however, a bit too close for comfort. It
is singularly disturbing and raises ugly specters from U.S. history.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, the voluntary standards community
in the United States withstood three major federal attempts at
imposing unwanted government control and undue influence over
its activities. Two Congressional bills calling for government
controls were soundly defeated, as well as a proposed rulemaking
by the Federal Trade Commission. A proposal by the U.S. Department
of Commerce for the creation of a quasi-governmental organization
was likewise roundly rejected. Our philosophy was then and is
now that our voluntary standards system is to remain market-driven,
and directly accessible. The United States does not, therefore,
base our voluntary standards activities on architectural structures
that are political in nature.
That, of course, makes us different. There are member countries
of the ISO whose national standards organizations are totally
controlled by government. There are others, such as the member
states of the European Union and their associates, who ascribe
to national delegations as a prerequisite for membership in their
regional organizations CEN and CENELEC.(6) The ISO and the IEC,
however, must accommodate and respect the views of all members
if they are to represent a global population. Advocating a political
structure based on national delegations as the prerequisite for
the development of recognized voluntary international standards
rejects and casts aside the United States system and its de facto
The principles upon which the system of consensus standards organizations
in the United States are built are, in every respect, commensurate
with the principles of the Agreement, as are the international
standards that system produces. It meets all the criteria, and
goes beyond. It is open to anyone, of any nationality. This makes
it actually, not virtually, a system for all interested parties.
Its technologies on the whole are highly advanced, thus giving
it the ability to raise the levels of technology around the globe.
It has contributed these technologies to the development of some
of ISOs and IECs best international standards. The active participation
of the United States makes both organizations meaningfully global
instead of merely international. Yet, both organizations, along
with their government counterparts, would preclude U.S. internationally-developed
and internationally-used standards from being recognized, and
therefore barred from the global commitment to eliminate unnecessary
technical barriers to trade.
Which bring us to the Agreement itself. That is its purposeto
eliminate unnecessary barriers to trade. It is not to dictate
the architecture of non-governmental standards bodies. The Agreement
calls for the development of international standards that are
developed openly, transparently, and by consensus. It calls for
standards bodies whose membership is open to all its members.
Like all wisely crafted agreements, it has left itself room to
maneuver and opportunity to mature.
Narrowing its interpretation at this stage of its development
cannot be a step in the right direction, particularly not while
it is experiencing limited global success.
As I pointed out in my first article on the WTO (May 2000), the
United States and Japan, two out of three world economic powers,
are having difficulty implementing the portion of the TBT that
calls for the use of international standards as a basis for regulation.
One of the reasons for the difficulty is that there are those
within the governments of both countries who assume the Agreement
binds them to the use of international standards that emanate
only from ISO and the IEC. When, for their own regulatory reasons,
they find ISO and IEC standards unsuitable to their purposes,
and laboring under this misconception, they are left with no international
alternatives. If the Agreement is to move in any direction, it
must move outward, not inward.
For the Record
For the record, let me say that I support the spirit of the TBT.
I think standards should facilitate trade, not hinder it. ASTMs
support of ISO is a matter of record.
It supports more than two-thirds of all U.S. TAGs. ASTM was among
the first in the United States to propose a pilot program that
would bring ASTM activities closer to those of the ISO and further
the development of more ISO standards.
What I do not support is the claim that there is only one way
to develop voluntary international standards, and that way is
by national delegation only. I believe in the right to choose.
I believe that people who develop and use standards have the right
to choose the standards they will use and the voluntary standards
organizations that will give them the standards they need, no
matter where they live. The people who develop and use standards
are the ones who should dictate how and where their technical
problems are to be solved. The people who develop and use standards
are also the ones who should solve the problems of waste and duplication
because it is in their interest to do so. They, after all, are
the ones who regulate health and safety and cause trade to move
and flourish, not standards organizations. I believe the role
of standards organizations is to assist that movement, not dictate
the terms of it.
I personally believe in direct participation, easy access, and
an equitable voting system. And last, I believe the international
standards organizations in Geneva should
reflect the interests of the United States as well as all and
any of their other members.
The ISO/CEN Vienna Agreement
Which brings me to the ISO/CEN Agreement, also known as the Vienna
Agreement. According to ISO, this Agreement was born out of concern
for European claims that the technical quality of ISO standards
was too low for the requirements of the European market, and that
ISO produced standards too slowly.
Following is a quote from a 1995 paper entitled Vienna Agreement
on Technical Cooperation Between ISO and CEN. The author is Mr.
M. A. Smith, ISO director, Standards:
While we accept that there was an element of truth in such charges
(but for which we would not accept more than a small percentage
of the blame), the belief in ISO was that the major point was
being overlooked. This was that the Single European Market needs
to be integrated into the wider, global market and this can be
best achieved by ensuring that the standards used to regulate
the Single European Market are also those which regulate the global
With this in mind, it seemed that what was needed was a set of
procedural mechanisms to try to ensure that to the largest possible
extent International Standards and European Standards are compatible
or even better, identical.
This statement from ISO is a perfect corollary to stated European
objectivesthe transmutation of European standards into international
standards that regulate the global market.
The Vienna Agreement is, essentially, about achieving identical
ISO and European standards through an exclusive, cooperative,
and symbiotic arrangement. Such a concept defies all logic that
it would not evolve into occasions of favoritism.
The Agreement allows for the transfer of standards development
from one organization to the other, with either ISO or CEN taking
the lead. When CEN takes the lead, the standards activity is
closed to everyone except European interests and two ISO observers.
ISO has added that its committees should give preference to at
least one non-European member. Working group meetings may be attended
by invitation only. Drafts of standards are theoretically to be
made available to the ISO Committee for comment, but CEN interprets
draft to mean at the prEN (European Draft Standard) stage or
later. In some cases, CEN rejects requests from non-Europeans
for information before the prEN stage. In the parallel voting
procedure, a prEN is circulated as a DIS (Draft International
Standard), a fait accompli.
The ISO/CEN Agreement also allows for ISO to maintain the ISO
standard, and accept that the European Standard will deviate from
the ISO standard. Although non-European bodies may explain the
status of their standards compared to ISO standards, ISO does
not evaluate each national standard and accept their deviations.
Japan Speaks Out
Like the TBT Agreement, the Vienna Agreement also undergoes review.
According to an ISO/CEN Joint Coordinating Group paper dated June
of this year, the report presented to the General Assembly in
October 1998 found that the objectives of the Vienna Agreement,
its results in terms of practical implementation, and the opportunities
it affords to ISOs members both within and outside Europe were
still not well understood.
Based on this finding, Japan held a seminar on the Agreement,
and outlined what the ISO/CEN paper and the report called several
problematic cases that still exist.
In actuality, the issues raised by Japan are based on far more
than problematic cases. Japans report is based on accepted
principles of good standards practices, and unfortunate experience,
and shows a remarkably high level of understanding of the Agreement.
Japans report, which benefited from the assistance of ANSI, outlines
the difficulties of the Vienna Agreement in terms of the lack
of transparency, the lack of openness, and the lack of impartialityironically,
the very principles called for in the TBT Agreement.
Comments from the United States Pour In
Following the release by ANSI of Japans report, similar outcries
were received from ANSI members. Case after case of reported abuses
as a direct result of the operation of the Vienna Agreement added
support to Japans findings. U.S./ISO Technical Committee participants
weighed in and cited chapter and verse, pointing to specific incidences
of the lack of transparency, the lack of openness, and the lack
of impartiality toward non-Europeans in the operation of the ISO/CEN
These kinds of abuses can only occur in standards bodies that
are based on geopolitical architectures, i.e., national delegations,
where blocs of nations can upset a balance of interests.
Return to the TBT
The controversy surrounding the ISO/CEN Agreement makes the letters
from the ISO and IEC to the TBT Committee (those concerning the
need for international standards to be developed only by bodies
organized around national delegations) all the more serious, especially
since they were submitted by Secretariats to the TBT Committee
seemingly independently of ISO and IEC governing bodies and certainly
without the knowledge of the United States Member Delegate.
Following is a quote from a letter, written by ANSI, to the secretary
general of ISO, Dr. Larry Eicher and Mr. A. Amit, the General
Secretary of the IEC. It was signed by ANSI President Dr. Mark
Hurwitz, USNC President Mr. Edward R. Kelly, and ANSIs International
Committee Chairman Mr. Henry Line:
ANSI can find no recent decision of the governing bodies of either
IEC or ISO on which the statements in these communications can
be based. We are gravely concerned that neither the members nor
the governing bodies of IEC and ISO were consulted in advance
of the letters being sent nor were they even provided directly
with a copy of the correspondence. It is our opinion that letters
of this nature that formally communicate a new position of the
IEC and the ISO to an external governmental organization should
be subject to review by, at the very least, the IEC and the ISO
Councils prior to transmittal.
The letter is dated June 13, 2000.
The ANSI letter goes on to refute and challenge the ISO and the
IEC secretaries subjective claims that recognized international
standards can only emanate from bodies whose memberships are based
on national delegations. The ANSI letter also challenges numerous
other assertions made in the IEC communication, which were more
far-reaching but equally presumptive. The letter from the U.S./ISO
Member marks a gratifying moment in our history, one in which
its rebuttal to the ISO and the IEC letters is in total harmony
with the positions held forth by the U.S. Government Representative
to the TBT Committee. In this moment, the United States is speaking
loudly and clearly in the one voice it has sought for so long.
Time to Take Stock
Its time to take a long, hard look at our situation and our standing
in the arena of international standards politics. U.S. principles
of market-driven standardization, open competition, and the right
to choose are not appreciated in Geneva. U.S. standards development
practices, with governments acting as equals as opposed to protectors,
role models, or subsidizers, are not acceptable norms in Geneva.
International standards developed by U.S. organizations that do
not ascribe to national delegations are discredited in Geneva.
U.S. voluntary consensus international standardization practices
are dismissed in Genevanot because they are not in accordance
with good standards practices, not because they arent open, transparent
and impartial, not because they arent a part of the most successful
economy on the face of the earth, not because they arent less
likely to erect unnecessary barriers to tradebut because they
Its time to take stock and for the United States to take its
rightful place in Geneva as a full member, with all respect due.
We are not easy to dismiss.
1 World Trade Organization Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement
2 International Organization for Standardization/European Commission
3 International Electrotechnical Commission
4 International Telecommunications Union
5 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
6 European Commission for Electrotechnical Standardization
7 A compilation of the ANSI Member comments is available upon
request from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2000, ASTM