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Plain Talk
for a New Generation
The internationalization of standards can be a complicated business. This was a topic of discussion at the ASTM Officers Conference, held in September at Headquarters for new technical committee officers. One of the most well-attended modules of the conference was the one for which the staff had prepared presentations on ASTM in the national and international arenas.

In the discussions that followed the presentations, and in the answers to our pre-conference questionnaire, our officers told us they wanted the standards they developed to be used more extensively around the world. They, especially those who feel their standards need the global political acceptance they get from the ISO approval process, already know from experience that internationalization cannot be approached with any degree of naïveté. The committees choosing this process must be aware, for instance, that one-half or more of the voting members in about three-fourths of all ISO committees where ASTM members participate, represent CEN and CEN affiliate countries.

ASTM committees should also be aware that greater internationalization can begin at home. And the process is one that is more familiar. When ASTM began as the International Association for Testing Materials in 1898, it was one of the first international standards organizations in the world. It was formed specifically to develop high quality, market relevant, widely acceptable, international standards. The process was based on a few basic concepts. First, our founders thought that international standards should be developed by a consensus of technical experts. Secondly, there were to be no political or monetary barriers to international standardization. In other words, nationality or wealth was not to be an asset or a liability. They were of the opinion that the best international standards should be derived from a global bank of knowledge and that merit alone should be the price for success. That accounts for the high quality and the excellence of the technology that is present in ASTM international standards today. Thirdly, the ideals of democracy, equality, and intellectual freedom should form the foundations of behavior for every international committee. In other words, rights were to be endowed universally and evenly, especially the right to vote. This accounts for the numbers of international experts who prefer to do their standards work in ASTM. And finally, they were of the opinion that an international community would use standards created by an international work force. This process has been used for over 100 years, and thousands of ASTM standards have achieved international acceptance. But operating in today’s global market means it is imperative to raise the bar.

For those ASTM members who still need political global acceptance, there is still ISO. They must continue, however, to be aware of their prospects in ISO, where they must overcome the challenges connected with one country/one vote, and where CEN and CEN affiliate countries (33 in all) have 50 percent or more voting members on 80 percent of all ISO committees.(1) For those committees that want to achieve greater international acceptance for their work through ASTM, however, there is a viable, ready solution. It lies in the willingness, and the commitment, to bring as many international technical experts as possible to the table. That is all that is required. The rest will follow.

James Thomas
President, ASTM

1 Data compiled from ISO data base at

Copyright 2000, ASTM

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM

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