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Plain Talk for a New Generation
Technical Assistance: Quenching the Thirst

I have decided to revisit the subject of technical assistance to developing countries one last time for two reasons: one, because it is a subject that has global significance; and two, because it directly affects the members of ASTM International and the use of ASTM standards.

A quick review of the last two articles, published in the March and April issues of SN: 1) Technical assistance,(1) as provided by government entities such as the European Commission, is not limited to but includes advice on the preparation of technical regulations (standards) and the development of standardization skills. 2) The commitment to technical assistance by the European Union may be unmatched in its coordination and magnitude.

The first thing to be clear about is that there is a great thirst in the world for good standards. The line that runs through standards to trade, to jobs, to development, to relief from poverty is straight. Absolutely straight. Little wonder there is a thirst. I have seen this thirst firsthand, as have other members of the ASTM staff, members of the board of directors, and technical committee members who have traveled with us to developing countries.

There are people in these countries who see that line of trade and development running through ASTM standards. They want to know what is in them and how to use them. They ask us to come and show them, and we have committed many resources to do this. Our staff and members go to all parts of the world, conducting workshops, responding to requests from the U.S. government to provide standards information to developing countries, and taking part in standards in trade workshops and commercial law development programs.

We know that in some countries, government policies prohibit the use of de facto international standards. That is a challenge ASTM International has been facing for some time. And now, added to that challenge is technical assistance, which is the mass marketing by governments of selected standards to selected markets. I said this in the first article in this series: “Technical assistance is not altruism. It is business. It is not charity; it is developing future trading partners. It is matching regulations and regulatory aims. It is investing with standards.” It is quenching a thirst.

ASTM International does not and cannot set policy for any government. That is not our role. But this organization has a long history of working with governments around the world. We have already begun to communicate with the U.S. federal government on this subject. We know that there must be a national effort to help developing countries understand that they have a choice, that those who already know the value of ASTM standards are free to use them, and those who don’t have the opportunity to discover them. The best standards in the world should not have any barriers to their use.

We are working to break down such barriers and to see to it that our message is not lost in the shuffle, because there are people in the world who see the line of trade and development running through ASTM standards. All they need is to have their thirst quenched for market-relevant, international standards. They will do the rest.

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM

(1) An obligation under the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.

Copyright 2004, ASTM International