||ASTM International: The Global Vision
This article is a collection of ideas that form the ASTM International
global vision. The individual ideas have been explored in this
space since this column began in February 1999. This collection
is in response to the many questions still remaining about ASTM,
its place in the global community, and the principles that guide
it. It is an effort to provide a coherent statement of who we
are and what we believe.
Global standardization, by definition, affects everyone. Its presence,
or the lack of it, affects the health, the safety, the environment,
and the quality of life of everyone on the planet. Consequently,
the right to participate directly in a global consensus decision
should be denied to no one, anywhere. There should be no prerequisites,
no barriers of any kind. And government should participate as
an equal among equals, no more, no less. This is ASTMs membership
There are regional and international standards developing bodies
whose memberships are based on national delegations. Voting is
by country, and the formula is one country, one vote. This means
that national delegations, as opposed to individual participants,
are prone, and sometimes directed, to reflect national or regional
programs. Although this is not universally true, there are occasions
when those programs take precedence over advances in science and
technology. Thus politics obscures consensus.
ASTM International believes that voluntary standardization should
rise above nationalities, and that science should be safely out
of the reach of politics. This is best accomplished when it is
entrusted to individual scientists and engineers, whose primary
purpose is the pursuit of technical solutions to technical problems.
The evolution of the global marketplace and the emergence of global
companies have changed the face of international standardization.
For these companies, national and regional boundaries are now
only part of the landscape. Their standards needs are varied,
and constantly changing.
Direct participation, flexibility, and responsiveness have attracted
global stakeholders to ASTM International. Many global companies
are among its members, and ASTM standards are adopted into the
national portfolios of many countries, both as voluntary standards
and as the basis for regulation. One hundred countries are currently
represented among its ranks.
Some proponents of development by national delegation contend
that all other methods are invalid, and that standards produced
in any other way are also invalid, i.e., not suited for international
applications. But despite the protestations, the evidence is irrefutable:
Standards developed in an environment of individual rights and
limited government are powerful tools of global commerce. Two
compelling examples of such standards are the Internet standards
adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide
Web Consortium and the hundreds of ASTM standards in 62 different
product areas that have been adopted by China.
Nevertheless, ASTM International recognizes and respects the choices
of the marketplace, whatever they may be. Global companies decide
which approaches to standardization are the most appropriate to
any given situation, and ASTMs view is that all approaches, if
they have value to the user, are valid. Most importantly, it believes
that this choice belongs to those who navigate the turbulent and
treacherous waters of commerce, not to policy makers or to standards
developing organizations. If this were not so, ASTM would not
support two-thirds of all the U.S. Technical Advisory Groups to
the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and
the content of many standards developed within ASTM would not
today be the basis for ISO standards.
One of the greatest obstacles to freedom of choice in the global
marketplace is the disruption of the voluntary standardization
process by the dictates of politics. It is an unnatural occurrence
in what is, essentially, a scientific and technical endeavor to
improve the quality of life. Political ambition is a blind and
poor judge of the marketplace. It is contrary to the concept of
consensus, for it asserts authority into a process that works
on the principle of equality.
There is a place for politics, but ASTM Internationals vision
of voluntary global standardization does not include it. One of
the struggles of a standards developing organization that espouses
freedom of choice is that it must continually confront the widespread
notion that there is only one way to develop a global standard
and that everyone in the world must subscribe to it. This concept
is rooted in industrial policies that have seized upon the process
of voluntary standardization in an attempt to manipulate marketplace
decisions. Every attempt at control reveals a lack of confidence
in the global enterprise system. Every artificial prop robs the
entire system of vitality.
Quality and Relevance
Standards, like products in the marketplace, should stand on their
own merits. The founders of ASTM were of the opinion that the
best international standards should be derived from a global bank
of knowledge and that excellence alone should be the price for
success. The global standards developed by ASTM International
must stand on their own merits, for there is no national or international
political device to keep them afloat in commercial waters.
Nothing except high quality and marketplace relevance launches
an ASTM standard into worldwide use. These basic values define
ASTM standards and their creators. They speak to who we are, what
we believe in, and what we stand for. We believe they should be
inherent to every standard. We believe these are the ultimate
measures of a standards worth. We believe that without quality,
a standard is without substance, and without relevance, it has
Quality can be defined in many ways, but essentially it is the
aspect of a standard that makes it function in a superior way.
Quality may give the user a competitive edge, or provide a product
with maximum levels of safety and health. It may provide the technical
path to regulatory compliance. It may be an advanced solution
to a technical problem. No matter what its purpose, it will meet
the users expectations and more likely than not, exceed them.
Relevance is a standards ability to solve a real problem in real
time. The relevant standard will connect to events in the marketplace.
It will be practical, appropriate, and realistic. It will travel
well and be used, accepted, and recognized in as many marketplaces
as possible. It will be the standard of preference instead of
the standard of prescription.
ASTM International is of the view that global standards should
be developed according to the principles contained in Annex 4
of the Second Triennial Review of the WTO (1) Technical Barriers
to Trade Agreement: openness, transparency, impartiality, and
by consensus. ASTM concurs with the Agreements statement that
international standards should not be developed with a view to
create unnecessary barriers to trade. ASTM asserts that in fact,
standards should facilitate trade, not hinder it.
The Agreement also prescribes the use of international standards
as a deterrent to barriers to trade and, with certain notable
exceptions, it obligates its member governments to use international
standards as the basis for technical regulations. The position
of the United States Trade Representative before the Committee
on Technical Barriers to Trade is that standards bodies which
operate with open and transparent procedures and that afford an
opportunity for consensus among all interested parties will result
in standards which are relevant on a global basis and prevent
unnecessary barriers to trade. In other words, the position of
the USTR is that the process of international standardization
and the relevance and fair trade aspects of the resulting standards
are related more to principles than to the structure of institutions.
ASTM International also concurs with this position.
There is only one way to serve, to meet the needs of ASTMs global
members: It is to remain viable. This means being solvent. It
means protecting intellectual property rights. To operate otherwise
would be irrational. To operate otherwise would betray the trust
of ASTMs members, to those global companies and individuals who
come to ASTM with investments of money, time, expertise, and expectations
ASTM International has a commitment to remain viable. It has chosen
a business model that designates the sale of documents as the
source for the greater part of its revenue. The adoption of this
model was a conscious corporate decision, chosen for its many
advantages. This model has aligned ASTM theoretically and practically
with its global company members, in that survival depends on management,
opportunity, and the quality of the product. ASTM encounters the
same risks as any global business enterprise, and it must overcome
the same kinds of obstacles, from economic downturns to diverse
marketplace requirements, to the fluctuations of supply and demand.
Its business model has withstood the test of time, and has served
it well. ASTM is financially healthy and completely self-supporting;
and like any successful company, it is robust enough to reinvest
in the continual process of updating, upgrading, and revitalizing
its operations. The investment in technology has revolutionized
the ASTM standardization process and has improved everything about
the way standards are published and delivered. Its electronic
network means standards development can take place without the
limitations of time and space. It means direct participation is
possible for those for whom it had never been possible before.
In the world community of standards organizations, ASTM International
and organizations like it are an anomaly. ASTM recognizes this.
It does not believe that its way, or any one way, is the only
way to develop global standards. But in a system of free global
trade, there must be a quid pro quo. Barriers to the use of global
standards, no matter how they are created, must be broken down
and thrown away.
ASTM Internationals global vision is of a world where standards
are accepted for their quality and relevance, and freedom of choice
is the only choice there is.
James A. Thomas
(1) World Trade Organization
Copyright 2002, ASTM