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Standardization Policy in Korea

A Strategy Encouraging the Private Sector to Take the Lead

by Chang Hyeng Park

The Changing Role of Standards

The definition and role of standards have significantly evolved with the development of human civilization and technology. In the agricultural age, the standard served as a means for trade and communication, while in the industrial age, people used standards to improve the quality of products and enhance productivity in order to streamline and implement fair transaction processes.

However, as the world opened a new chapter in the 21st century, a time in which accelerated digitization further interweaves the world’s economies and intensifies competition, people were forced to think more proactively about tools of survival in an era of technological innovation, new market demands, and the need to overcome technological barriers. In addition, more significance has been placed on the universally used “global standard.” Therefore, standards are no longer a matter of choice but of necessity today.

“The nation that commands an international standard commands the world,” “the level of a nation’s compliance to standards is a barometer of its competitiveness,” and “no matter how excellent a technology is, it is useless if it is not recognized through international standards” are just a few common axioms that highlight the importance of standards.

Shift from Government-Led to Private Sector-Led Standardization

It is true that Korea’s government-led standardization policy has contributed to the strengthening of its industrial competitiveness and has played a pivotal role in economic growth during its industrialization. Korea has solely relied upon a top-down method of establishing and implementing standards since 1961, when the government legislated the Act on Industrial Standardization.

Korea has now become a large, top-12 economy in the world, and its technology is on a par with longer-established industrialized countries. However, simply depending on government-led standardization policy will not take the Korean economy much further. To encourage more participation from the private sector and convince it to take the lead in standardization is the only viable strategy to advance our technologies and properly adapt ourselves to the fast-paced global business environment.

Korea now prides itself in holding more than 18,000 of its own official standards today (known as Korean Standards). We are also in the last stage of aligning these standards with international standards. By 2003, Korea had joined 701 International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) technical committees and subcommittees as a participating member, stepping up its activities in the international arena.

Nevertheless, we believe our participation in international standardization efforts is not enough and that we still significantly lack the infrastructure that will allow Korea to establish internationally recognized standards. Therefore, it is necessary for corporations who are the leading players to spearhead the drive toward tangible results in the standardization process.

In order to better respond to such a need, the government and the private sector began collaboration and crafted the following five standardization strategies (with the Korean Standard Association serving as a secretariat), which we believe will contribute to the establishment of standardization infrastructure in the private sector.

1. Mobilize the Private Sector’s Standards Development Capabilities
With the aim of building a network of human, information and organizational resources, we have created more than 20 standardization forums. These forums provide experts from industry, academia, government and interest groups an opportunity to form a community where they can cooperate in developing the capabilities for establishing standards and propel Korean standards toward recognition in the international arena.

The forums are mainly in the industries of the “new economy,” including information technology. They were formed based on the prospect of technology development, the possibility of Korean standards becoming internationally recognized, the feasibility of sharing common policies across different industries, and economic efficiency. The forum members work assiduously to gather the opinions of interested parties through various research activities and to maximize the use of developed standards through meetings with personnel from related industries. Additionally, more forums will be created for new industries including biotechnology and nanotechnology, with the number of forums to grow to 50 by 2010 across all of the industries of Korea.

2. Encourage the Private Sector to Actively Participate in Standardization
Through this initiative, we render support to private sector standardization efforts and manage the registration of standardization. This is to systematically support the standardization efforts in the areas where Korean companies have already gained technological advantage. Such support will also contribute to making potential standards into official standards. We will determine businesses’ standardization needs and help them develop standards that are required by the market.

The process is as follows:

• Research standardization demand — The demand for a standard will be identified through a survey of companies, organizations and academic associations in Korea to determine the need for, urgency and feasibility of standards development.
• Determine tasks necessary to accomplish standardization — Tasks initially identified will be screened and final standardization tasks will be selected by a committee composed of technology experts. The criteria for this final list are also based on the need for,
urgency of and feasibility of standards development.
• Invite potential standards developers — Announce the selected tasks and invite developers.
• Select a standards developer and provide support — A committee composed of experts from business, academia and research institutes will determine the developers.

We plan to develop more than 100 standards in 2004 and progressively increase that number. Additionally, we will establish an integrated registration system for group standards that are presently loosely managed so that they can be properly managed and utilized through a single point of contact.

3. Train Personnel and Develop an IT System for Wider Use
We will provide industry personnel who are responsible for standardization with different training programs depending on their level of knowledge of standardization. This will facilitate the application of standards in their individual companies and assist in enhancing their ability to develop standards. In addition, we believe that such training will enable Korean corporations to better comply with international standards.

These members will be able to engage in forums, workshops and activities to encourage standards development and promote the international recognition of Korean standards. We will build a database with information on the 732 pool members currently participating and systematically manage the database so that it can generate substantial results.

4. Enhance the Awareness of Standardization in the Private Sector
This will help businesses to understand standardization as crucial to their business strategy. We also aim to increase the awareness of standardization among the youth who will be working in business in the future.

In Korea, there are few education programs on standardization. Therefore, we have started education programs for the general public, separate from the training programs for standards professionals described in number 3 above. Meanwhile, we held a contest for a “Thesis on Standardization” in 2003, hoping to enhance the understanding of standards among graduate students and to lay an academic foundation for standards development. A total of 61 theses were submitted last year. Among the papers submitted were “Analysis of the Roles of Government and Public Offices in Standardization” and “How to Develop Standards in New Technologies Such as Logistics, Optic-Communications and Environment.” Six finalists and six special candidates were selected and awarded prizes. Beginning in 2004, we plan to expand the contest beyond academia to businesses and private research institutes. This will help enhance the perception of standardization among the general public.

Meanwhile, roughly eight science and technology colleges are scheduled to provide standardization courses starting in the 2004 fall semester; beginning in 2005, the number of schools offering the course will gradually increase. In the class, standardization will be taught through specific and engaging examples from various fields of academia.

5. Survey on the Status of Private Sector Standards Both at Home and Abroad, and Database Establishment
This survey is intended to precisely identify our position in terms of private sector standards for the first time in Korea. Through this task, we will be able to organize systematically data regarding private sector standards so that users can easily access and use the information, further encouraging the development of private sector standards and preventing the development of unnecessary standards.

The survey is expected to raise the understanding of private sector standards, which will create more demands for that particular topic. In addition, regular workshops will provide an opportunity to share the importance of private sector-led standards development and exchange information on standards.


Korea’s standardization policy is transforming into one that takes a bottom-up approach. We are determined to reduce the government-led, top-down strategy and develop a standardization policy that enables us to respond promptly to fast-changing standardization demands and develop standards that markets need based on voluntary participation and agreement. Our goal is to increase our competitiveness in standardization based on the competence of the private sector. We believe the strategies we have outlined here will enable us to survive fierce global competition and become a leader in the world’s market. //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Chang Hyeng Park is director, industrial standards and quality division, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (MOCIE), Republic of Korea.