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Plain Talk on the TBT and
Vienna Agreements

Bravo, Mr. Thomas, for laying out in detail the problems with the direction the “international” standards organizations are taking [Plain Talk for A New Generation by Jim Thomas, August 2000 SN]. Many people have argued for years that the purpose of European-dominated bodies is to further the influence of Europe. It has become increasingly apparent that recent declarations and developments support this view. I appreciate the fact that you have made a very strong statement defending America’s time-tested standards development process, and I think it imperative that ASTM become more vocal in defense of the voluntary consensus process as embodied by ASTM. Now is the time to make our case, individually and collectively, otherwise the system which has worked so well for over 100 years risks being relegated to the drafting of suggestions for ISO.

Ernest Dale
Las Vegas, Nev.

Your Plain Talk on TBT and the ISO/ CEN Vienna Agreement was excellent. I’ve been attending ISO meetings for only a short time and have encountered the exact problems with the Vienna Agreement you describe. I often have to justify my ISO involvement to upper management and your article would give them a wider view of the dynamics of the entire process and what’s at stake.

Jeff Winter
Product Development Engineer
Dayco Products
Springfield, Mo.

Your article regarding the ISO/ CEN Vienna Agreement matter, relative to how CEN products get preferred treatment in the ISO process, expressed the situation very well. If something is not done before too much longer to make, as you say, the United States a full partner, things could get much more difficult for all concerned, including the “international” standards endorsement process. The fact that, in the United States, our technical standards process is not government-controlled and directed seems to cause no undue amount of concern with other countries where the government element controls subject. They do not understand us, especially since the United States’ interests in standards so often do not speak with “one voice,” and we do not understand how they work under government control either, as a rule. Anyway, I hope your article results in some positive actions via the WTO or otherwise to remedy the situation with ISO/CEN Vienna Agreement.

Paul Gill
NASA Technical Standards Program

I read with considerable interest your article concerning the ISO/CEN Vienna Agreement. While I have been involved in several discussions on the matter in my technical standards consulting activities, I guess I have not clearly understood the basic issue until I read your article. You have done an excellent job describing the situation and ramifications of decisions being made.

However, as I read further into your article I was looking forward to a statement on actions the United States should or could take to reverse the situation, given that you have noted that the United States seems to be speaking with “one voice” for a change. Unfortunately, your remark in the end that, “It’s time to take stock and for the United States to take its rightful place in Geneva as a full member, with all respect due” leaves me a bit perplexed as to just who should do what to whom and how. If the United States has only one vote on the WTO, ISO, etc., involved organizations, that would not seem to be adequate to carry enough weight to override actions relative to the ISO/CEN Vienna Agreement.

Is there an alternative? It looks like the United States against the rest of the world because we are different, right or wrong. However, I do recognize that in the international arena, as with the national activities, economics and what works best prevails insofar as to what “standard” is utilized, regardless of source. ASTM’s standard products and others will be used, if they fit an international job, whether they have been endorsed as an ISO, ESSA, or other of the Geneva organizations’ products I suspect. I hope your excellent article, however, does have some influence in getting everyone in the United States working on the same team from international aspects relative to standards products.

William W. Vaughan
University of Alabama–Huntsville

I commend you for your tough stance in “Time to Take Stock.” The Cordage Institute has been fighting the ISO “closed shop on standards” for some time. In the standards setting arena, the Cordage Institute is not large but we do feel strongly that the U.S. approach to standards development is far more democratic and open to global input than ISO. A new ISO WG 21 has been established for rope and cordage and our counterpart in Europe—Eurocord—has been designated the secretariat. They are also the secretariat for CEN standards and they are saying they may use our standards as drafts. If this is done at the CEN level, by virtue of the Vienna Agreement, there can be a potential end run to ISO without any input or voting from other than EU interests. We are not clear on exactly how this type of procedure will play out, but it does illustrate how the ISO so-called “international” standards are not universally transparent, are not open to due process, and are certainly not representative of global equality.

Gale Foster
Technical Director,
Cordage Institute
Hingham, Mass.

To say that your article in the August 2000 SN is insightful is doing it a great injustice. The article laid out the real issues surrounding the attempts by the (primarily) European Community to control world trade through the manipulative use of a puppet standards organization which supposedly represents the interests of the world community. Your presentation is the clearest stated position from the United States voluntary standards community that I have seen to date. Someone must step up to provide the needed leadership to protect the interests of the American (and other affected countries’) public. These unfair attempts by the European Commission for Standardization to place standards barriers to free trade will ultimately affect the pocketbooks of all Americans (and affected others).

I sincerely hope that ASTM will continue to speak out and provide the much needed leadership to address this issue to its ultimate resolution. Your article, however, left a void which I encourage you to fill. As a member of ASTM, and other voluntary standards organizations, I want to provide assistance to prevent this great injustice from occurring. I suspect other ASTM members feel the same after having read your article. Your article did not provide any suggestions regarding grassroots support in the political arena. I would assume there are specific politicians and public servants to which we should voice our opinions. Names and addresses would be of assistance.

Jim, you’ve got our ire up; help us direct it!

Robert Hardison
Newport News Shipbuilding
Newport News, Va.

My congratulations to Jim Thomas on a job well done in his Plain Talk for a New Generation article in this issue. He gets right to the point and doesn’t dance around the issue. Dare we hope for support from other nations now? Dare we hope for more open and honest communication? In any event—job well done. I’ve shared the article with some of my colleagues, and they feel the same.

Walter G. Baumgardt
ASTM Committee D20 on Plastics

Apparently, ASTM’s leaders have finally recognized the threat to U.S. business and standards that is represented by the European and ISO attitudes toward international standardization. Why has it taken so long?

Until an October 1994 meeting of ISO/TC135/SC7 in France, I had not heard of the Vienna Agreement. However, upon learning of its provisions, the serious threat that it posed to U.S. interests was immediately apparent to me. I attempted, unsuccessfully, to have SC7 complain to ISO leadership about the Agreement. On Oct. 31, 1994, I alerted ASTM and ASNT to the issue by letter. Dr. Leonard Mordfin, chairman of ASTM E07.91, understood immediately. He conveyed our concerns further within ASTM, wrote to ANSI objecting to the Agreement, and early in 1995 published an article on the issue in Standardization News.

Unfortunately, despite these efforts and further prodding, neither ANSI, ASNT, nor ASTM took any other action until 1996. ASTM then published Helen Delaney’s article about one company’s experience, and Jim Thomas mildly reproached the U.S. government in a speech before a Congressional committee. Nothing further was done until minutes of an October 1996 meeting of CEN/TC138 reached me through a European friend. These minutes reported a frontal effort by CEN to commandeer the primary ongoing activity of ISO/TC135/ SC7, so I again wrote to ASNT and ASTM about the pernicious potential of that Agreement. Nevertheless, in June 1997, Standardization News quoted the president of ANSI as claiming, “The concept of ‘block voting’ in ISO…is a red herring.”

However, as a result of my 1996 letter, ASNT did begin an active effort to spur defense of U.S. interests. These efforts included hiring a lobbyist, meetings with ANSI officers, increased attendance at European meetings, and testimony before Congress regarding the inimical effects of the Agreement. What is difficult to understand is the glacial response of all affected non-European organizations, especially ASTM and ANSI. The threat to their interests was obvious and, beginning in 1994, was repeatedly pointed out to them, yet they have done little or nothing to ameliorate the threat to the United States.

I am pleased that ASTM’s leaders now appear to understand the problem. If they will join vigorously in ASNT’s efforts, then perhaps ANSI, our government, and others will come to realize the need to replace the Vienna Agreement with a fair, even-handed protocol on international standards development, a protocol that allows equal voice to all interested, competent parties regardless of their affiliation.

George C. Wheeler
Schenectady, N.Y.

Copyright 2000, ASTM