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Technical Assistance: Second Installment

Last month, this space was devoted to trade and development, and technical assistance to developing countries, one of the obligations of signatories to the WTO/ TBT (1) Agreement. This is Installment Two, and it’s about money. Money is a delicate subject and is often referred to euphemistically as “funding,” or “resources,” or “allocated sums.” The fact is that whatever it is called, technical assistance requires it.

The term “implant” is defined in Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Desk Dictionary as “1. To fix firmly, as in the ground; plant; embed. 2. To instill in the mind: to implant new ideas; inculcate.” Technical assistance is tantamount to implanting ideas, or standards, in developing countries by way of education, training, and workshops. It is a win-win proposition. The recipient country wins because it gains a technology that helps it to develop and trade. The donor country wins because its technology is now implanted in that country, which helps it to trade. The two countries now have ideas of health and safety and regulation that are identical, and they have eliminated barriers to trade. They speak the same language. They’re partners. They’re both ahead of the competition. It’s a great, great business strategy. All it takes is money.

In a report submitted to the World Trade Organization, (2) the European Union has outlined its plan for technical assistance to developing countries. In it, the European Commission has notified the WTO that it (and individual member states) has allocated funds to “help developing countries understand the European Community’s system.” The breadth of their commitment is — in a word — stunning. There are 23 technical assistance projects planned in Africa, three in the Caribbean, 20 in Latin America, 29 in Asia, 18 in the Mediterranean and Middle East States, 20 in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and 69 in southeast Europe. Examples of line items:

• For Russia (there are eight projects in all): 2,000,000 euros from 2002 to 2005 for the “harmonization of environmental standards.”
• For India: 2,000,000 euros for the year 2000 for “Standards and Quality Assessment.”
• For the Association of South East Asian Nations: 9,000,000 euros for 2003 to 2006 for a program on “Standards, Quality and Conformity Assessment.”

The list goes on and on and on, itemizing 182 projects around the world. (3)

It’s easy to say that all it takes to do something like this is money. Here at ASTM International, we know that it takes so much more. It takes the perception and the realization that standards have the power to change the face of the marketplace. It takes planning, and research and the development of strategies. It takes a cohesive policy and the willingness to make a long-term investment. Yes, and finally it takes an impressive amount of money. That is where, as we say in the United States, the rubber hits the road.

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM


1 World Trade Organization/Technical Barriers to Trade
2 G/TBT/W228, October 15, 2003
3 Further information about EC trade related assistance can be found on the Internet sites: and

Copyright 2004, ASTM International