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A Good Story

A few years ago, while attending a national standards conference, I heard a conformity assessment panelist state that, to her knowledge, few products had ever crossed international boundaries due to a mutual recognition agreement. If true, this is pretty glum news for those who make it their profession to facilitate international trade through laboratory accreditation. This perception has taken root to a certain degree in trade and standards circles. When I approached Peter Unger, president of the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, about a possible feature article on conformity assessment for this month’s issue of SN, he said he’d heard all about this idea and promised that A2LA could supply an article that would show otherwise.

One of the missing links in communicating the benefits of standardization and conformity assessment to business and trade is the “good story.” Standards, especially, inhabit such a fundamental level of product development, manufacture, procurement, and global trade that proof of their economic impact is often beyond the ability of many standards developers and users to even articulate (even though that positive impact is unchallenged as a given). And conformity assessment can seem so esoteric and theoretical, with such far-reaching agreements necessary for international implementation, that it can be hard to believe that these obscure laboratory accreditation agreements actually do assist in reducing trade barriers.

Of course, for any number of importers and exporters, conformity assessment is anything but theoretical, and (true to Unger’s word) the feature article in this month’s issue by A2LA Vice President Roxanne Robinson shows the real benefits to trade of one mutual recognition arrangement in detail. Robinson shows just how the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation has enabled the smooth export and import of products as wide-ranging as mussels, electrical products, pipettes, fire extinguishers and crayons throughout Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim.

In a job like mine, an article like this — with real-world examples of how trade is enabled by the work of laboratories around the globe — is one of those longed-for “good stories.” For the person whose job it is to acquire, say, the highest quality and most cost-effective flooring for a new sports arena in New Zealand, the successful international accreditation of laboratories is itself welcome news and, along with the standards to which those labs test, a fundamental enabler of global trade.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

E-mail Maryann Gorman