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November/December 2008
PlainTalk

Thinking Internationally

ASTM’s Global Approach

The transformation of ASTM to ASTM International has been a steady process that has revitalized our organization. It is visibly manifested in the burgeoning use of ASTM standards in countries other than the United States and in the increasing internationality of technical committees.

The influx of technical experts from outside the U.S. began years ago as a trickle. Today, it is a steady flow of professionals and specialists who bring a wealth of international viewpoints and experience to ASTM technical committees.

But there is more to this transformation. Policy decisions must be made from a base where thinking reflects the internationality of the ASTM technical membership and the users of its standards. In the past, the influx of ASTM board members from outside the U.S. was also a trickle, a thin stream of international experience. That trickle too has become a flow, and next year, the ASTM International board of directors will include members from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America.

ASTM’s governance and its visions are now increasingly formulated by a blend of learned experiences that extends beyond those of any one nationality, any one culture. ASTM’s global approach to standardization is now more than technical; it is philosophical as well.

In 2001, I was invited to address an international conference of standards users and asked to speak on the topic of the evolving world of global standards. I began my presentation this way:

Fifty years ago, this conference would not have been possible. There was no global trading system as we know it today. Standards were developed largely for local consumption. But standardization is evolving, and we are evolving with it. The process of evolution calls upon us to unfold, to grow, to develop. It is the only way we will meet the needs of the greatest, most enticing marketplace in history.

In my speech, I traced the ongoing transformation of ASTM into ASTM International. Also speaking that day was Torsten Bahke, Dr.-Ing., director of Deutsches Institut für Normung, the national standards body of Germany. In January, Bahke will become an ASTM International director, bringing with him years of experience as the head of one of the world’s leading standards bodies.1 He will join a board of 24 directors that will have representatives with equally impressive credentials from five regions of the world, including North America.2

Directors who represent industries and governments of multiple nations lend further universality to the formulation of ASTM’s business plans and operations; they open windows on the world ASTM International is committed to serve.

At the same time, our international directors gain a deeper understanding of a model of standardization that exists nowhere else in the world. ASTM International policies of adherence to World Trade Organization principles for international standardization, combined with individual participation and government partnership, comprise a perspective that may best be seen and understood from the inside out.

ASTM’s transformation to internationalization is a commitment to the objectives of its members, the users of its standards and a liberalized global trading system. It is also a way of thinking.

1. Another speaker at the International Federation of Standards Users (IFAN) conference was Akira Aoki of Nippon Steel and the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan. Mr. Aoki became a member of the ASTM board of directors from 2003 to 2005. He was also vice president for policy of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1998 and 2000.

2. In addition to Torsten Bahke (2009-2011, pending election), ASTM International directors from outside the U.S. serving in 2009 are Ricardo Rodrigues Fragoso, general director of Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas, Brazil’s national standards body (2008-2010); Rashid Ahmad Bin-Fahad, Ph.D., environmental minister for the United Arab Emirates (2007-2009); and Masami Tanaka, president of the Japan Testing Center for Construction Materials and 2005-2006 ISO president (2009-2011, pending election).

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International

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