A key tool for global trade
Jean Kubler, UNECE
The official definition of a standard is a «document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context». As such, it is recognized by WTO.
International standards hold many of the
answers to global trade issues
When countries adopt international standards and harmonize their technical regulations worldwide, everybody stands to gain. Producers save both at the production and sales levels. They simplify their inventories by not having to adapt their products and services to a variety of different national rules. Consumers, in turn, find their choice of products widened to include offers from around the world. These products nevertheless conform to guaranteed quality and security. In an ideal world, trade is facilitated when all, both sellers and buyers, base their products and services on international standards to make them compatible worldwide. National legislative and regulatory work is simplified and accelerated when reference can be made to internationally agreed documents. Moreover, the multiplication of technical instruments shared by the countries facilitates their economic relations and helps to overcome the factors of division. The vital role of International Standards as the technical foundation for the global market is explicitly recognized in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The Agreement urges Governments to make the utmost use of International Standards so as to avoid unnecessary obstacles to the free flow of goods. It includes a Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards. This Code applies to all members of the Organization, and so far, some 70 countries have notified their acceptance.
Standards developed by consensus among trading
partners serve as a lingua
franca for trade
Examples of the lingua franca are the UN/EDIFACT standard for electronic commerce, an United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and ISO standard, that ensures that all participants can really communicate and understand each other electronically. The use of UN/EDIFACT by the bar-code community grew by 59% during 1997 and 998 and the UN/EDIFACT messages are translated into 21 languages. The cooperation between UNECE and ISO dates back to the 70s when the first recommendation developed by UNECE in the 60s on the layout of trade documents was based, among other things, on ISO standards of paper size the famous A4 format. Since that time, the cooperation extended to standardization of information exchange in areas such as country names, currencies, syntax and electronic data interchange, UNTDED-ISO7372, UN/EDIFACT-ISO 9735.
Standard-setting for global trade is supported
by a web of international standards organizations
In the late 80s UNECE realized that the competition among the private sector in the field of electronic business and digital information may lead to a standardization maze that raises the issue of compatibility and interoperability of standards required for global trade. Even if each organization developed standards in its own specialized sector, there are risks of divergent and competitive approaches. Conflicting specifications, such as initially the European and United States standards for electronic data interchange or the PAL/SECAM/NTSC for TV systems are examples of such failures. To respond effectively to this type of issue, the Memorandum of Understanding between ISO, IEC and UN/ECE the sector of electronic business is an example of a new partnership of the standard-setting organizations . The existence of national and regional standards and regulations can prevent the creation of the global standards needed by the trading partners. For instance, in the automotive industry, over 80 different kinds of standards from the whole world cover the various areas of car manufacture, from Australian railways standards to standards for Brazilian fuels. That being said, there are many examples of regional standards which become global when found useful and responding to user needs. UN/ECE standards and regulations, such as those related to spare parts of motor car vehicles, transport of dangerous goods or UN/EDIFACT, now serve as the basis for many international instruments. The UNECE and ISO are further deepening their coordination efforts to provide the user community with coordinated standard specifications for future e-business activities in areas such as the ebXML initiative.