U.S. Policymakers Review Standards and Trade Issues
This is the first in a series of Washington Notebook quarterly columns from ASTM Washington Representative Jeff Grove.
Recent discussions in Washington, D.C., about international trade issues have included a broader review of the role of standards and technical regulations in commerce. Special attention has been focused on the standards policies of China and the European Union because of the volume of trade affected and due to concerns raised by some in the U.S. business community regarding the potential of some international standards to serve as trade barriers. As the leading U.S.-domiciled international standards development organization, ASTM International has been engaged in educating Washington policymakers, the business community and the general public regarding the importance of international standards for trade and the need to ensure that standards policies and regulations do not serve as barriers to access in the global marketplace.
China and the WTO
Reflecting China’s growing role in the world economy and its membership in the World Trade Organization, U.S. policymakers and the business community have become increasingly interested in China’s compliance with its WTO commitments, its trade balance, currency manipulation, and other macroeconomic policies. With accession to the WTO comes an obligation for China to comply with the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement and its rules and procedures that recognize international standards based on the transparency, openness, and impartiality in their development process rather than the label the standards bear or their source.
At a Congressional hearing in April on issues surrounding the U.S.-China economic relationship, representatives of the U.S. business community cautioned lawmakers on the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee that careful attention should be paid to China’s compliance with the TBT Agreement. Since China is emerging as both the largest producing and consuming market for many types of products, it has the potential to exert strong market power. Without continued vigilance, concern was expressed to Congress that China’s strategic use of standards could evolve in a manner that gives a competitive advantage to Chinese technology and domestically produced manufactured goods over technology and products from the United States and other industrial countries.
Transatlantic Economic Relationship
Standards-related challenges in the U.S.European Union transatlantic economic partnership have also been the subject of scrutiny during recent policy discussions in Washington. At a Congressional hearing in May, lawmakers with the House Committee on Science discussed the EU’s strategic participation in the standards development activities of international standards bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Some U.S. companies and industries expressed concern that the EU, having harmonized most of its technical standards among its membership, has exhibited a tendency to exercise significant influence in the 100-member ISO by voting as a bloc. (More than 30 European countries hold voting membership in ISO.) More broadly, U.S. companies that are active in international standards development activities expressed concern to Congress that the U.S. commitment to and consistency of participation in ISO processes is not as great as that practiced by the EU.
A second topic of interest to U.S. policymakers in their review of the U.S.EU partnership involves the development and execution of national standards strategies. In recognition of the importance of standards to their domestic economic development and ability to penetrate markets abroad, Germany, as well as other countries, has developed and published a national standards strategy as a framework for representatives of government and industry to work in cooperation to promote standards that best serve Germany’s interest in the global trade system. Such strategies are being developed to help focus the resources and management of national standards infrastructures as a way of extending specific standards regimes to emerging markets and thus ensure access to these markets for their products. At the Congressional hearing in May, representatives of U.S. companies expressed concern that the coordination and strategic efforts of the EU have been more effective to date than similar U.S. efforts.
ASTM International Seeks Removal of Barriers and a Clear Statement of Policy
ASTM International supports trade agreements and policies that ensure that the best standards in the world do not incur any unnecessary barriers to their use. In its interactions with policymakers of the United States and other nations, ASTM International is very firm in its promotion of the WTO TBT Agreement. In particular, a section of the agreement now referred to as “G/TBT/1/Rev.8 Section IX” states that standards bodies operating with open and transparent procedures and that afford an opportunity for consensus among all interested parties will result in standards that are relevant on a global basis and prevent unnecessary barriers to trade (see sidebar).
To ensure that standards do not serve as technical barriers to trade, ASTM International is seeking that all 148 countries that have signed the TBT Agreement adhere to their commitment to accept and use international standards based on the principles and definitions embodied in “G/TBT/1/REV.8 Section IX” of the agreement. Under this well-articulated approach, the process of international standardization and the relevance and fair trade aspects of the resulting standards are based upon the principles of standards development rather than the structures of the institutions that produce them. Reaffirming such a clear and concise policy to accept and use international standards as defined by the TBT Agreement will ensure that international standards serve as a catalyst to propel the growth and prosperity of the global economic system.
For more information regarding ASTM International’s efforts to remove barriers to the acceptance and use of standards worldwide and to advance a legislative and regulatory environment in which standards development activities can thrive, feel free to contact Jeff Grove in ASTM International’s Washington Office (phone: 202/223-8505). //