Standards Become Trade Issue

Article excerpt

International travelers often leave their hair dryers and electric shavers at home--different standards in different countries render such appliances useless. Now the issue of standards is heating up as an international trade issue, according to the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). U.S. industry may suffer unless the government gets more involved in the process of setting standards.

Standards are part of daily life, OTA notes. Food and drugs must comply with health standards; cars use standardized, interchangeable parts; workplaces have safety standards; clothing comes in standard sizes; telephones have standard interfaces; and bedsheets are sized to fit standard mattresses.

More than half of the manufactured goods that the United States exports are, or will be, subject to European Community product safety standards, estimates the U.S. Department of Commerce. The harmonization of European trade laws, scheduled for completion this year, may not only make it harder for U.S. companies to trade in Europe, but could also allow the Europeans to play a greater role in setting international standards. U.S. goods that don't meet European standards will lose out.

In every major industrialized nation except the United States, "governments view standards and the standardization process as part of the industry infrastructure, and they support it accordingly," OTA asserts. The countries of the European Economic Community (EEC) and Japan have established programs to assist their domestic companies in the use of standards and provide technical standards training to developing countries, which could serve as future markets. …