International standardization is well-established for many technologies in such diverse fields as information processing and communications, textiles, packaging, distribution of goods, energy production and utilization, shipbuilding, banking and financial services. International standards will continue to grow in importance for all sectors of industrial activity for the foreseeable future.
International standards can facilitate world trade by effectively removing technical barriers to trade, leading to new market opportunities and economic growth. Simply put, a component or system manufactured to an international standard in country A can be sold and used in countries B through to Z if these countries have adopted the same international standard. International standards provide industry and users with the framework for achieving economies of design, greater product and service quality, increased interoperability of products, and improved production and delivery systems. At the same time, international standards also encourage an improved quality of life by contributing to safety, human health and the protection of the environment.
The World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) explicitly recognizes that international standards play a critical role in improving industrial efficiency and facilitating world trade. The number of standardization bodies that have accepted the Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards presented in Annex 3 to the WTO's TBT Agreement also underlines the global importance of standards that help, not hinder, trade.
There are a diversity of bodies involved in the preparation of standards used globally. These include governmental or treaty organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and organizations that are either specialized in standardization or involved also in other activities. Different approaches and procedures have been adopted by these bodies in their standardization activities (e.g. participating bodies, how work is initiated, developed and finalized).
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are familiar examples of organizations that develop standards used globally. ISO and IEC are both private, voluntary organizations whose members are national standards bodies. The ITU is a treaty, or intergovernmental organization.
Standards developed by some U.S.-domiciled (headquartered) organizations have gained direct international acceptance in specific sectors and serve as de facto global standards. These standards are developed with input from international participants, in some cases on an individual basis, in others on an organizational basis. In addition, in certain technology sectors, consortia organizations are popular means for the development of global standards. Consortium technical categories include areas such as e-commerce, the Internet, multimedia, web services and so on.