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More on WTO TBT and Vienna Agreements

I was happy that Dr. Lawrence D. Eicher of ISO was given an opportunity to reply (Oct. 2000) to Jim Thomas’ views on ISO/WTO issues (Aug. 2000). Dr. Eicher’s response certainly illustrates why differences of opinion exist on these issues. However, in my view, Dr. Eicher did not address the key questions.

This isn’t an “America versus the rest of the world” debate; instead, at its root, it is a debate about a questionable process (ISO) versus a superior process (ASTM and others). The ISO process may be useful for some, but the ASTM model can be demonstrated to be more responsive, capable of producing a better product more quickly, and is far more inclusive of the stakeholders. The existing ISO process is defective in a number of respects, including: preventing direct stakeholder membership/participation, defining a simple majority of a few voting members as a “consensus,” and allowing committee chairs excessive leeway on interpreting the requirements of due process. (There are other fundamental ISO process defects, but these suffice as illustration.)

What about the question of definition of an international standards body? Again, I believe Dr. Eicher has missed the point. ISO defines itself as an international standards body and (at least unofficially, if not officially) states that ASTM is not. But a name or category alone does not define reality. ISO can only be considered an international standards body for those cases where ISO can actually claim to represent the views of the bulk of the international stakeholders. (By stakeholders I do not mean a few so-called national representatives, but the many actual users of the standards.)

Dr. Eicher fails to comprehend that ASTM (as well as other non-ISO standards development organizations) is a de facto international standards body for many of its constituencies. This is not by declaration alone, but on the basis of broad usage of and broad international participation in the development of ASTM standards. A number of ASTM committees are “more international” than their counterparts in ISO. It appears to me that ASTM is also at least generally, if not specifically, consistent with both the WTO and ISO definitions of an international standards body. Note that ASTM is open to membership by the national standards organizations that are the ISO “members.” For ISO to declare itself, defective process and all, to be the unilateral arbiter of what is, and what is not, an international standards body, is simple arrogance without basis in fact.

While an ISO organization with an ASTM-like process would eliminate my fundamental objections to ISO, I recognize that many ISO participants support the existing ISO model; I do not expect ISO to change in this respect. However, ISO would do well to officially recognize that other models for standards development, such as the one used by ASTM, are highly effective in the development of international standards. ISO should accept this, and help define better methods for cooperation between itself and ASTM.

Rich Fields
Winter Springs, Fla.

It was a pleasure to read the article on international standards. The pleasure was in reading the well-structured exposé of the problems, not in the subject matter itself, which continues to disgust me. ISO and the other Euro-centric standards bodies have done an incredible job sucking in the business community as a whole without their understanding what they are supporting. I find these standards too often to be politically motivated or influenced, often to the detriment of U.S. or other businesses. The worst news comes when the U.S. government harmonizes with these standards, often despite the fact that they are ill-suited for use here in the states. Numerous examples exist in the aviation industry with which I am familiar. I do not rule out such harmonization or the creation of truly international standards, but as long as governments effectively run the process it is essentially flawed.

I find most other standard-setting organizations outside the United States to be arrogant, secretive, and wholly unresponsive and I have no respect whatsoever for the standards they promulgate for those reasons.

Doug Ritter
Editor, Equipped to Survive
Member SAE S9 Cabin Safety
Provisions Committee, and S9A Ditching and Evacuation Systems Subcommittee

The Appeal of Appeals

Re: “In Praise of the Fat Lady,” by Morris Brooke, June 2000.

The Federal Trade Commission must have been misinformed if it concluded that ASTM has no bodies to which decisions of the technical committees may be appealed. We in Committee A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys have appeals in the works after almost every letter ballot, as I am sure is the experience of other technical committees.

Any person, whether a member or not, can enter an objection to a ballot item at any point in the balloting process, and that objection will be considered and voted upon by the originating subcommittee. The subcommittee is where people knowledgeable in the technology gravitate—producers, users, and persons with a general interest like those from government and academia. Producers are limited to minority voting rights. In Committee A01, the negative voter’s reasons are circulated to all the subcommittee members with the meeting agenda in advance of the meeting where the ballot results are to be considered. At the meeting, the negative voter is given an opportunity to state his or her case. In the event the subcommittee finds the reason for the negative vote to be nonpersuasive, that action must be reviewed at a meeting of the main committee. There, the negative voter’s reasons are presented to the main committee, and the negative voter again is given an opportunity to make his or her case in person or by proxy. This is his or her second line of appeal.

Should the main committee vote not to support the negative voter, the opportunities for appeal are not exhausted. The item then is submitted to letter ballot in the main committee with the negative voter’s reasons attached. This action provides an appeal directly to all the members of the main committee and constitutes a third line of appeal. If the negative voter again votes in the negative on the main committee ballot, the originating subcommittee reviews the reasons stated for that second vote, and the negative voter again is presented with an opportunity to appeal to the subcommittee in person or by proxy. This is his or her fourth appeal. Should the subcommittee again vote not to support the negative voter, that action is presented to the main committee, and the negative voter has an additional opportunity to argue the case. This is the fifth appeal.

Should all these efforts fail to satisfy the negative voter, an additional opportunity for appeal is provided when the item is published in SN. A sixth appeal.

Even that does not exhaust the avenues for appeal. A negative voter may appeal directly to the ASTM Committee on Standards, which is in effect a supreme court of appeals. There, the negative voter may try to convince a disinterested board of the merits of the case. In addition, the negative voter may request an affirmative letter ballot of the subcommittee having jurisdiction. A seventh appeal!

As anyone can see, the “fat lady,” whose singing Mr. Brooke would like to have an opportunity to hear once more, sings on and on in the appeals processes provided by the great ASTM rules.

Harry E. Lunt, P.E.
Former Chairman, Committee A01
Former Member,
ASTM Board of Directors

Copyright 2000, ASTM