The Importance of International Standards
by Joan Sterling
One standard, one test, one time is a mantra of global business.
Joan Sterling of Intertek Testing Services ETL SEMKO talks about
the realities behind this hoped-for result of the current shifts
taking place in standardization.
Not long ago, a manufacturers cost of doing business internationally
often outweighed the opportunities for growth. But as technologies
and modes of transportation advanced, the borders that once held
business back began to rapidly disappear. The Internet and the
introduction of e-commerce eventually broke down these borders,
allowing companies of any size the ability to market products
around the globe.
However, even with the infrastructures in place to market and
move products, differing regulations and standards from one country
to the next continue to cause delays and create market barriers.
In many cases, a manufacturer may need to produce multiple versions
of the same product in order to distribute that product to countries
where standards and regulations differ. As you can guess, the
costs and logistics associated with this can really add up.
Are there solutions? Yes and no. Governments thought that many
of these issues could be reduced by establishing mutual recognition
agreements (MRAs) between countries or regions. In theory, most
MRAs should allow one country to accept product testing data from
another to obtain the needed certification demonstrating compliance
with the regulations or required standards. Unfortunately, to
date no product has moved from one country to another under the
terms of any MRA due to economic, cultural, and political concerns.
There are, however, many other options that allow manufacturers
to gain market access in more expedient ways. These include national
treaties, accreditor-to-accreditor agreements, certifier-to-certifier
agreements, and laboratory-to-laboratory agreements.
The Need for Internationally Accepted Standards
Perhaps the most viable solution is the development of international
or global standards. This is the solution that manufacturers are
demanding because it allows them to use one internationally accepted
standard rather than many proprietary or regional standards. It
is for this reason that standards developing organizations (SDOs),
industry leaders, testing and certification agencies and globally
minded businesses are pushing to establish unified global product
safety and performance standards.
In fact, the recent trend is moving toward the use of international
standards that have been developed in an open, transparent, consensus
manner by any qualified developer. International SDOs such as
ASTM, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Telecommunications
Industry Associaton (TIA), the International Organization for
Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission
(IEC), and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recognize
that manufacturers from almost every country are distributing
products around the world. This is particularly evident in the telecommunications industry
where the global demand for products is driving the need for international
Newer technologies such as telecommunications and information
technology are leading the way for international standardization.
Due to the rapid evolution of new technology products, deep-rooted
differences in regional standards have not had time to develop
and are not evident.
For international standardization to be successful, SDOs, regulatory
bodies, and manufacturers around the world need to work together.
It is only with collaboration among all these entities that international
standardization will become a reality.
One such example of a widely accepted international standard is
IEC 950 for information technology equipment and associated business
equipment. IEC develops international standards that address quality,
product safety, performance, reproducibility and environmental
compatibility for materials, products, and systems. IEC 950 is
recognized throughout the European Union (EU) and is a necessary
requirement for CE Marking, which is itself a prerequisite for market entry. The United States,
Canada, and many countries in Latin America and Asia have also
adopted this standard.
Benefiting from International Standardization
Manufacturers are the number one benefactors of the use of internationally
accepted standards because they can often reduce time-to-market
and lower development costs. Global standards facilitate the introduction
of products to a broad range of countries.
However, manufacturers are not the only ones that benefit. Consumers
also benefit since the latest technologies can reach the marketplace
more quickly. In addition to time-to-market advantages, international
standards increase the probability for consistently safer and
International standardization is in the best interest of all parties
involved. Although some emerging countries will fight it because
of economic and political reasons, international standardization
will only help their growth in the long run. The easier it is
for manufacturers to introduce products into these countries,
the more choices there will be for consumers. This would lead
to healthier, more competitive markets and would increase the
quality and availability of products.
Who Is Responsible for Certification?
Product certification demonstrates compliance with standards and
regulations and is mandatory in order to place a product on the
market in many countries. Ultimately, manufacturers are responsible
for certification to the required standards. Some countries regulate
the process, some allow manufacturers declaration of conformity,
and others require third-party independent testing labs to test
and certify products.
Certification organizations such as Intertek Testing Services
ETL SEMKO, Americas Division, have locations around the globe
and know the intricacies of international markets. By using an
independent laboratory or certification organization, a manufacturer
can be guided through the testing and certification process for
each market where it wants to distribute its products. These organizations
are up to date on all of the latest standards and because of their
global structure have the network in place to allow manufacturers
to test products at a local lab for global markets.
For independent testing labs, the development of international
standards doesnt necessarily change how they do business. The
real value of international standards for the testing labs is
that the benefits can be passed on to the manufacturers. International
standardization allows these testing labs to become true one-stop
shops, which can reduce the cost and time for manufacturers to
obtain global compliance.
A manufacturer that knows its target markets can come to an independent
certification organization for all its testing and certification
needs. As more international standards are developed, manufacturers
will be able to introduce products globally more quickly and efficiently.
The movement is towards the ultimate goal of one standard, one
test, accepted everywhere as rapidly as the markets and the regulators
Where Do We Go from Here?
The use of internationally accepted standards will continue because
the benefits are too great to fight this trend. Newer technologies
are currently leading the way, and it is anticipated that other
industries will soon follow. It is now up to the collective groupSDOs,
manufacturers, laboratories, and regulatorsto expand the international
standardization effort and drive the market forward. //
Copyright 2001, ASTM