WTO Director General Pascal Lamy cites vital relationship between WTO and ISO

Issue 32 – October 2011

Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), emphasised the 'vital relationship' between the WTO and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in a video message on 21 September 2011 to the 34th ISO General Assembly in New Delhi, India.

'The work you do – the work of setting Standards – is crucial for international trade,' he said. He pointed out the complementary nature of the work done by the WTO and ISO. The WTO's focus is on maintaining an open, equitable, and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system which generates opportunities for market access. However, he added, 'If, at the technical level, countries speak a different language, then those opportunities disappear. And if regulatory agencies don't trust the quality or safety of each other's products, they may not allow trade to take place. International standardising bodies, such as ISO, have an important role in building bridges.

'In fact, it is the very reason that two key WTO agreements (the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures) explicitly urge regulators to base their measures on relevant international Standards to avoid unnecessary barriers to trade. These agreements go as far as to say that measures that are based on relevant international Standards are assumed to be in compliance with WTO rules.

'But this vote of confidence by the WTO confers upon international standardising bodies significant responsibility. How you set your Standards is crucial. Indeed, WTO Members have agreed that for greatest effectiveness, international Standards should be developed through an open and impartial, transparent, and consensus-based process. These are the very same principles that underpin the WTO.

'Let me underline two points I believe are important, one on process, and the other on substance. On process, delegations at the WTO repeatedly emphasise the importance of transparency and accountability in the development of international Standards, calling for broad stakeholder engagement. In this context, I reiterate the importance of enhancing effective developing country participation in the work of international standardising bodies. International Standards must reflect developing country needs. When they do, they stand a greater chance of actually being used.

'On substance, I would simply say that Standards need to respond to market demand. They need to reflect state-of-the-art scientific and technological developments. It is also important that international Standards be fit for purpose, avoiding in their creation duplication and overlap with the work of other bodies.

'All this matters because today companies – and governments – need to be able to move product components smoothly across borders. Whether you are talking about aircrafts, automobiles, or iPODs, more and more products are made in global production chains that span different countries.

'Standards are an important part of the equation because if one component of the product is not of high quality, or is technologically not compatible with the rest, then the final product may itself be undermined, with the manufacturer's reputation suffering.'

Lamy went on to deal with the role of international Standards in knowledge management, saying, 'If developed appropriately, an international Standard can be seen as an embodiment of the collective know-how of the international community in any particular field. This is valuable.

'Almost by definition, an international Standard is the outcome of multilateral cooperation. Participation in the process itself – or simply the use of the final product – is a form of technology transfer.'

Lamy also underlined the contribution that international Standards can make in helping developing countries access the international market place, when combined with programmes to assist them in trade capacity building. 'Work on such Standards must continue therefore,' he said.

In conclusion, Lamy told the delegations of ISO member countries,' 'Please see this message as an encouragement by the WTO for the development of further international Standards. Ones that are developed transparently and inclusively; and which capture state-of-the-art technology. Once again, allow me to express my appreciation for the collaboration between our respective organisations. It must be maintained and I am confident that it will.'

Watch Pascal Lamy's speech for ISO 34th General Assembly, New Delhi, India on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrQcioqDYfE&feature=youtu.be).

Published in international.