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November/December 2010
ProVocative

Standards: A View from Korea

An Interview with Kaphong Choi of the Korean Standards Association

The Korean Standards Association promotes standards and standards education, quality and certification; it also develops and implements related policies. KSA’s Kaphong Choi discusses aspects of this work.

What impact and strategic value do standards have for industry and regulation?

With international trade becoming liberalized under the World Trade Organization system and information technology making nations around the world closer than ever, the world is becoming one big market in terms of international trade and technical regulations. And its paradigm has been changing from industrial business to knowledge and information business to green business. This situation has highlighted the need for common international regulations to govern the global market and ensure greenness, especially because every nation has a different language, culture, infrastructure and institution of its own. One may think international law can be applied, but it is too broad to ensure it will serve this particular purpose. This is why it is important to come up with new rules and means the international community can accept as the global norm — and international standards are the ones that can be such a global norm.

Traditionally, standards have been required to secure compatibility, control quality, reduce complexity and provide technological information. Today their roles have expanded beyond that to regulate the production of goods and services and their trade. As more importance is given to this new role of standards as regulators, the competition in a market is becoming more dependent on the ability to create standards as the rule of the game than on quality and price. In terms of trade, new standards are required for social responsibility, fair trade and carbon emission, while in terms of production, standards for labor and environment are needed.

In a nutshell, standards will become an essential factor in the future in regulating production, business and technology as international rules in global industry.

What programs are being implemented in Korea to increase awareness of and participation in standards development regionally, nationally and internationally? What role does KSA have in these efforts?

All standards developing organizations have two challenges in developing standards. One is to encourage businesses or consumers who use standards to be actively involved in standard setting, and the other is to raise awareness of standards among policymakers so that they can recognize their importance and reflect them in making policies.

To that end, the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, under the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, operates an organizational cooperation program that designates organizations from each field to devise standards drafts in an effort to encourage the participation of businesses in developing standards. KATS also runs a standards enhancement initiative that selects consumer agencies, universities, businesses or research institutions to have them explore new fields and develop necessary standards for the fields.

To promote regional cooperation and participation, KATS holds the Northeast Asia Standards Cooperation Forum and runs an educational program for officials in charge of standards affairs in the nations that are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The program was established in 2002. Internationally, KATS has signed memorandums of understanding with 33 nations, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan.

The Korean Standards Association, established in 1962 to support the government’s standards policy, not only serves as a bridge linking the public and private sectors by promoting standards, quality and certification in Korea but also developing and implementing policies in these areas.

You have written about the importance of lifelong learning regarding standards. Why is standards education important? What programs does KSA or other organizations have to help provide this education?

Standards help consumers select goods and services, and businesses increase efficiency and competitiveness; they also provide criteria for implementing regulations and contribute to reducing socioeconomic costs. In other words, standards have strategic value as soft infrastructure, and this is why it is important to educate people about standards.

KSA oversees standards education in two tracks, one for specialists and the other for the general public, to raise awareness of standards. Several educational programs are devised according to their purposes. Basic programs for elementary and secondary school students are aimed at providing them with opportunities to experience standards applied in daily life. As for advanced programs, lecture courses are set up in some 50 universities around the nation for prospective specialists. And young leader programs consisting of classroom lectures and field training are for those who want to be top-notch specialists.

How would you describe the scope of sustainability and what it means for the work of KSA? How does KSA encourage sustainability in its activities?

The scope of sustainability in a broad sense covers all business activities because the ultimate goal of business activities is to raise value for all: consumers, employees and shareholders, which can lead to economic growth, environmental conservation and social integration. Korea has focused on economic growth for the past 40 years, but it is now acknowledging the significance of sustainability involving environmental protection and social integration. In this regard, the government is taking green growth as its policy principle.

As KSA has contributed to the country’s rapid economic development for the last 48 years by providing standards, quality assurance, certification and training programs, we will continue to support the government in its efforts to ensure green growth by creating green standards, quality assurance and certificates. To that end, we will work more closely with international standards organizations, including ASTM International, to provide a knowledge service on par with that of other advanced nations.

KSA has been playing a leading role in the establishment process for the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 26000, Guidance on Social Responsibility, as the secretariat of the Social Responsibility International Standardization Forum since 2005 with support from KATS. We help Korean companies obtain carbon emission credits through carbon reduction initiatives as a Clean Development Mechanism Designated Operational Entity, designated by the United Nations in 2009. We are also the only Korean organization designated to evaluate voluntary carbon standards. KSA runs various programs to train specialists in sustainable management. We have developed the KSA Sustainable Management Index to promote sustainable management.

Korean technical experts have increasingly become actively involved in ASTM technical committees, and staff from KSA, KATS and ASTM International have been cooperating more closely. What benefits are being gained from this collaboration?

ASTM is one of the international standards most Korean companies (46 percent as of November 2009) use. So, active participation by Korean technical experts in ASTM technical committees will make it easy to introduce ASTM’s advanced standards to Korea and improve our own systems and technology. On Korea’s part, we can share our experience in achieving rapid economic growth and technological innovation with ASTM members.

Korean businesses have been showing even greater interest in ASTM since an April workshop about applying ASTM standards effectively. With the support of ASTM, KSA also plans to conduct virtual training for Korean standards specialists, boost cooperation between businesses and increase the use of ASTM standards. I believe this will benefit both ASTM and KSA as well as their customers.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for Korea in the next decade, and how will standards better position your country to meet them?

The manufacturing industry has been driving the growth of the Korean economy, and it will continue to remain a driving force, while the service industry also emerges as a new engine. This will raise the need for standards for business convergence and green growth within the manufacturing industry and for service business related to the industry. In other words, the country needs not only to continue to improve standards in traditionally strong areas like shipbuilding, machinery, semiconductor, construction and energy, but also to develop standards in new sectors converging telecommunications and biotechnologies and nanotechnologies.

There are also growing calls for international standards in relation to green growth and climate change. Among key areas are energy efficiency, carbon footprint, smartgrid, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and electric cars.

The Korean government introduced national certification systems for the service industry in 2008, which has boosted the development of standards for that industry as well. One of them is a certification program for call centers and facility and building maintenance providers. With test agencies for the program integrated into one to provide better specialized service, it is expected that there will be continuous needs for standards for such certification tests.

As the global market becomes integrated and the Internet makes it easier to share information, we should aim to create standards that can be available internationally. By doing so, we can ensure quality and transparency, thereby increasing contribution to the world’s efforts to develop standards and improving Korea’s status in the world.

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Kaphong Choi is chairman and CEO of the Korean Standards Association in Seoul, Korea. Before assuming that position in 2008, he had been an administrator at the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, a part of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, where he began his career as a senior researcher.