Standards play a leading role

Eliminating technical barriers to trade

By Aliyah Esmail

The cooperation between the WTO (World Trade Organization) and the IEC helps advance trade and eliminate technical barriers to trade. A lack of International Standards can hurt trade as products are no longer made in one country; products are now made in the world.

The WTO TBT Agreement is working towards faciliating trade.

International Standards help trade

Before a product is consumed in one market it travels through many others. Countries are more interdependent than ever and electric and electronic goods, and their components represent an important percentage of global trade.

If the world did not have International Standards to help manufacturers, exporters, or component makers of electric and electronic goods, they would have to comply with different requirements and regulations in each point of landing for each piece of the product.

Different testing, inspection, and certification rules would need to be met. The cost in time, effort, and money would be enormous. IEC International Standards eliminate these costs and allow for economies of scale to develop. Harmonized rules in International Standards allow large and small companies to participate in global value chains.

The WTO  TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) Committee meeting, which took place from 5 to 7 March 2013, gave the IEC a chance to showcase how it facilitates trade by complying with the Six WTO TBT Principles for the Development of International Standards – transparency, openness, impartiality and consensus, effectiveness and relevance, coherence, and development dimension.

The IEC was represented by IEC General Secretary and CEO Frans Vreeswijk and Françoise Rauser who is in charge of the IEC Affiliate Country Programme and liaison with the WTO.

A focus on standards

The Sixth Triennial Review of the TBT Agreement emphasized the need for the Committee to focus on specific areas, including standards. It decided to dedicate a thematic session on standards on 5 March 2013 to discuss the use of the Six Principles and promote awareness, quality and use, with a particular attention to the implementation of the development dimension.

IEC works with the six principles

Vreeswijk talked to the Committee about how the IEC helps developing and developed countries build safe and efficient energy and communication infrastructures and allows them to participate in global value chains for electric and electronic components and goods. He also spoke about how the IEC supports the six WTO TBT principles.

  • Transparency

All IEC Members have immediate and full access to all drafts and Standards. Affiliate Countries are able to fully access 10 technical fields of their choice. Participants in IEC work can receive automated notifications of all new publications and there are clear processes in place to regulate the development and publication of Standards.

  • Openness

Any UN (United Nations) member can join the IEC and IEC National Committees have an obligation to include all relevant national stakeholders from the private and public sectors and to coordinate and represent their needs at the global level in the IEC.

  • Consensus and impartiality

IEC International Standards are voluntary and consensus based. Consensus does not mean that there is a need for unanimity; however, in technical work all scientific or engineering arguments must be taken into account and sustained opposition must be overcome.

  • Effectiveness and market relevance

IEC work directly responds to the needs of all stakeholders in all countries. IEC International Standards include performance, interoperability and other criteria but always avoid being descriptive so as to enable innovation. The Standards are scheduled for regular reviews and updates, which are accessible on the IEC website.

The three IEC CA (Conformity Assessment) Systems represent the world’s largest working multilateral agreement in electrotechnology. Several thousand testing laboratories and manufacturer’s testing laboratories participate in the CA systems. Each system member recognizes and accepts the conformity certificates and reports of other members within each of the CA System.

  • Coherence

The IEC extensively collaborates with regional and international bodies to increase efficiency, limit duplication and overlap in standardization fields. The ultimate goals are to avoid conflicting Standards that hinder global trade and to avoid duplication of work.

  • Development dimension

Developing countries can participate in the IEC as Full or Associate Members, or in the Affiliate Country Programme. Active involvement and understanding of Standards and CA increases a country’s ability to benefit from technology transfer.

Affiliate Country Programme helps to advance trade

Rauser, whose work involves emerging economies, is focused on trying to help these countries to build infrastructure and move trade forward.

She spoke to the TBT committee about three surveys:

  • The first survey was to assess the situation of IEC Affiliate Countries regarding conformity assessment and their use of IEC three CA Systems. Fifty-two countries took part in this survey and their feedback will help the Affiliate Country Programme further develop how to get them involved in IEC CA Systems.
  • The second survey will help to activate the Mentoring programme for Affiliates. This approach will consist of twinning IEC experts with Affiliates to help them participate in the work of the TCs (Technical Committees), as an example.
  • The third survey, about IT tools and services, addressed 82 IEC National Committees in order to improve and intensify the support IEC gives to its members through activities such as national workshops.

There will be two more WTO TBT committee meetings this year – in June and October – with further thematic discussions on good regulatory practice, transparency, technical assistance and conformity assessment.

fam-1_commercial_harbor-(lrg) The WTO TBT Agreement is working towards faciliating trade.
fam-1_Cost-Cutting-(lrg) Countries are more interdependent than ever and global trade is reliant on International Standards.
fam-1_economic-growth-(lrg) The IEC facilitates trade by complying with the Six WTO TBT Principles for the Development of International Standards.