Using and referencing International Standards to support public policy

International conference highlights the important role of standardization in global trade, industry, society and its impact closer to home

By Antoinette Price

A conference entitled ‘Using and referencing International Standards to support public policy’, was organized by IEC, ISO and UNECE at the United Nations, Geneva, in November. The attending 175 participants heard how International Standards help to support public policy and enable resilient world trade, policymaking, electrical energy efficiency, safety in the food and medical devices industries, as well as contribute significantly towards disaster risk reduction and sustainable development goals. Here are some of the highlights.

Concrete results from collaboration between the UN and standardization organizations

Well-known for its peacekeeping and humanitarian activities, the UN also works to develop standards in many fields. The most successful are those developed across agencies, organizations, with civil society and business. For example, the adopted Sendai Framework of Action Disaster Risk Reduction, 15 year plan to make the world safer from natural and man-made hazards involved cooperation between UNECE, IEC and ISO.

Another case is the development of a Common Regulatory Framework on Equipment Used in Environments with an Explosive Atmosphere. UNECE worked closely with IEC and IECEx to create what is a basis for regulators who need to ensure safety and the protection of the environment and communities living near dangerous facilities.

A UN spokesperson noted that International Standards play an important role in the deployment of the highest level of its policies, such as for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Helping global trade function smoothly

Today global trade has become the norm, since many products are “Made in the world”, as parts are made in and transit through many different countries. More than ever it is important to avoid delays at the border crossings of these global supply chains, while ensuring quality, compatible, interoperable, reliable products. “Good International Standards setting is a form of multilateral cooperation that can help reduce trade costs”, said Eric Wijkstrom, Counsellor, Trade and Environment Division, World Trade Organization.

Improving energy efficiency

As the global demand for more energy rises, energy efficiency will involve all sectors of the economy. Energy savings are dominated by efficient motors in industry, efficient appliances and lighting in buildings and fuel-efficient transport vehicles. Franco Bua, Member of the IEC Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency and Vida Rozite from the International Energy Agency quoted the World Energy Outlook 2014 as saying that two thirds of the economic potential to improve energy efficiency remains untapped for the coming 20 years. In the meantime, standardization work continues to play its role in energy efficiency. Bua explained how IEC International Standards support the regulation of electric motors, power transformers and adjustable speed drives by providing common measurement, test and calculation methods. They also codify best practices, design checklists and guides; consider interoperability and a systems approach.

Safety from farm to the fork

We all do it, because we have to and because we enjoy it. We eat on the run, snack between meals, cook our own food and dine out in an array of eateries. Whether heating a pre-made supermarket meal, grabbing a fast food burger or savouring fine cuisine in a restaurant, hotel, theatre or mountain chalet, we expect our food to taste good, and more importantly, be safe and fit for consumption. Speakers from both the food industry and ISO talked about the key role International Standards play in both the trade and safety of food. They made reference to the Codex Alimentarius or "Food Code" established by FAO and the World Health Organization in 1963 to develop harmonized international food standards, which protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.

Making the world healthier

Wherever we are in the world, and whatever our medical condition, we want to know we can access medical care and that any device we may use (pace maker, insulin dispenser or hospital monitoring device) functions accurately and safely. According to Elisabeth George, Vice President, Global Regulations and Standards, Philips, International Standards address issues, such as varying legal and regulatory requirements of countries, differing documentation needs, non-unified scope of verification and validation, by allowing for a convergence of international requirements. The benefits of such Standards include “a common and agreed language across stakeholders, a basis for international trade agreements, testable or auditable requirements and cost savings which result in improved patient access.” 

International Standards are often used at the highest levels of industry within countries, as was explained by Kuniki Imagawa, Technical Officer at a Japanese regulatory agency for pharmaceuticals and medical devices. “More than half of the Japan Industrial Standards for certification of medical devices (class II, MRI, x-ray system) are based on and the majority are harmonized with IEC and ISO International Standards.

How can we promote the importance of standardization to greater audiences?

The event was a great success, attracting regulators, representatives from industry and the private sector, non-governmental and standardization organizations. In addition to the important role standardization has to play in so many areas, a number of speakers emphasized the need to improve visibility of the standardization process, increase access to and broaden the scope of its participants, as well as do more to promote and ensure the certification of Standards.

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