Identifying Roadblocks to the Use of ASTM Standards

Standards, used strategically, can influence markets. They are gatekeepers, embedded in technical regulations designed to protect consumers from health and safety hazards. To this end, governments can prescribe specific standards to be attached to the regulation and/or prescribe the source from which the standard is to be obtained. Sometimes, the regulation will offer an exporter a choice of standards and sources. Sometimes not. When the latter happens, all other standards except those specified are barred from use.

When a technical regulation does not permit the use of an ASTM standard, a product manufactured and tested to that standard is denied entry, even if that product meets all the national or regional safety requirements. Even if that product exceeds the national or regional safety requirements.

Barriers to the use of ASTM standards exist in many parts of the world. They are usually created wherever government policies stipulate that only international standards bearing certain logos are to be used in technical regulations, that is, international standards that are developed by the delegation process. They exist wherever a particular label is allowed to transcend quality, relevance and, most importantly, freedom of choice.

In spite of the barriers and the ideologies that do not align with ASTM International's development process, ASTM standards are used everywhere in the world. In many cases, the ASTM standard is preferred over a country's national standard, and over an international standard developed by the delegation process.

In thousands of cases, World Trade Organization member countries make exceptions to their "traditional" standards policies and attach the ASTM international standard to their technical regulations. When they propose these exceptions, they are required to notify all other WTO members. This public notification process is, ironically, a testament to the effectiveness, relevance and the internationality of the ASTM standard.

There are times when the ASTM standard is the best and there are times when it is the only solution to a health, safety or environmental problem. It is then that the welfare of a country's citizens is allowed to transcend adherence to an ideology or reliance on a single source for standards. And yet, these institutional barriers still disrupt trade and degrade the standards strategies of global companies. They are costly to those who are forced to manufacture and test the same product multiple times to multiple standards.

Whenever choice drives excellence and competitiveness, the ASTM standard is pressed into service. And no wonder. It comes out of a process that is simple in its inclusivity: ASTM International closes its doors to no institution, no nationality and no individual. It is, therefore, a center for some of the finest minds on the planet. It is a haven for scientific freedom of expression, a meeting ground where collaboration between a broad and diverse range of technical experts can bring forth globally applicable technologies.

The credibility of the ASTM standard is guaranteed by ASTM's adherence to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade Decision on Principles for the Development of International Standards. The ASTM standard has never been rejected on its merits, nor has it ever been developed with a view toward acting as a barrier to trade. It is the world's standard that was born in the United States, the product of a system that is uniquely democratized. It emanates from an organization that is older than most of the others in the world, including those that are called "traditional." ASTM International is endowed with its own long, honorable tradition.

Let us - ASTM members, member companies (both large and small), representatives of governments, and the ASTM staff and directors - continue to press for the elimination of barriers to the use of ASTM standards. We encourage our members and friends to tell us where and when a barrier exists. (See notification information below.) In the end, it will be those who have to navigate the intricacies of the global market who will demand an end to barriers. It is they who will have to form a world trading system supported by standards that are chosen on merit. In the meantime, let us speak out. Let us do our part.

James A. Thomas

President, ASTM International

Notify Jeffrey Grove, ASTM vice president of global policy and industry affairs (tel + of any barriers to the use of ASTM standards of which you are aware.

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