Four of the participating entities in the Middle East peace process, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will meet this fall to continue efforts to harmonize standards and develop a regional market for each other's goods.
The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology will serve as a facilitator at the next meeting, tentatively scheduled to take place in Israel, to share information on the U.S. standards development process with Middle Eastern officials so that their countries can move towards establishing an economic regional block. The harmonization of standards will provide the region with better products and ensure quality.
The meeting will build upon the success of the March 1996 Taba seminar on Standards and Metrology in Cairo, Egypt. At that seminar, a working group of representatives from the Egyptian National Institute of Standards, the Standards Institute of Israel, the Jordanian Institution for Standards and Metrology and the Institute of Standards of the Palestinian Authority agrees to a pilot project to harmonize standards in food processing and building materials.
Standards and metrology officials from NIST are representing the United States at the working group's meetings. NIST was asked to participate by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown.
The pilot effort will cover the harmonization of standards for food processing, including olive oil, tomato paste, and processed meat; and standards for cement and ceramic tiles. Standards for these products are deemed important for consumers within the Middle Eastern region.
B. Stephen Carpenter, director of the NIST Office of International and Academic Affairs says, "This effort to harmonize regional standards for consumer products to improve trade can be a very important economic incentive for the participating countries under the Middle Eastern peace process."
Carpenter notes that while the four Middle Eastern parties have significant trade with the United States, trade between the respective nations is very small. He adds that in addition to fulfilling the U.S. role for participating in the peace process, the seminar provided NIST with an opportunity to introduce the U.S. standards and metrology system and procedures to the region.
The standards seminar was held as an outcome from the Taba Trade Leaders group meeting in Taba, Egypt, in October 1995. At this meeting, ministers and leaders from Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority identified specific action items for a market access study to improve trade. One of the items called for the heads of regional standards and procedures organizations to hold a meeting that would result in work towards a regional approach for the review and harmonization of national standards. The pilot project to harmonize standards for a few consumer products is a first step in this effort.
There also appeared to be a consensus among the participating parties that the most fruitful effort would be to work toward agreement on mutual recognition of certification and testing bodies and procedures. If one party could perform the tests as a subcontractor for another it would lower costs and avoid the investment in new equipment and training.
For information on the Taba Standards Working Group, contact the Office of International and Academic Affairs, A505 Administration Building, NIST, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-0001, (301) 975-3069, fax: (301) 975-3530, e-mail: OIAA [at] nist.gov.
As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.