"The United States needs an effective national standards strategy if we are to compete effectively in the global market," Raymond Kammer, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, told a congressional subcommittee in testimony today.
Kammer told the House Science Subcommittee on Technology that international standards for products, processes and services are increasingly important to the U.S. economy due to the quickening pace of technological innovation and the globalization of trade. "At a time when science and technology are driving the design of new products and the improvement of already available products and services, cycle times for everything from jet engines to computers are being reduced dramatically," Kammer said. "There is extreme pressure for standards to keep up with, and to permit the advancement of, products and services," he added.
"The globalization of trade has clearly changed the face of commerce.... Standards that may serve as barriers to trade take on monumental importance," he told the subcommittee. "Unfortunately, we are beginning to hear more and more about instances in which American firms are finding the gates to trade being swung shut as compliance with standards developed overseas becomes the price of admission." Kammer told the panel that "Of equal or even greater concern is the system by which conformity with these standards is determined, a system which too often puts U.S. firms in the position of having to demonstrate adherence through testing not just in the United States but by duplicate, costly and time-consuming testing overseas."
The implications are great for the economy, with the Commerce Department estimating that standards serve as barriers to trade for $20 billion to $40 billion in U.S. exports. Kammer cited several examples where U.S. companies had been put at a disadvantage through standards-related trade barriers.
"There has been a lot of talk about the New Economy. I think we had better start talking about the New Standards Economy, because whether or not this phenomenon receives public attention, it is here and it will only intensify," Kammer said. Such a strategy requires at least two critical steps, according to Kammer. First, it is crucial to achieve worldwide recognition of the technology incorporated into U.S. standards and conformity assessment procedures. Second, those U.S. standards and conformity assessment procedures need to be harmonized with those of our major trading partners through increased U.S. participation in the development and use of international standards.
"We must ensure that international standards contain strong U.S. technical input so that our products will face fewer technical barriers to trade. That's already true in some sectors, but it is the exception rather than the rule," Kammer said. He called for the U.S. standards community to work together more effectively "to resolve our differences with one another to achieve a unified U.S. approach in the international standards setting. Our current domestic standards system is not succeeding well enough at the international level. While the U.S. standards community has made progress over the last five years, we must continue on this path at a more rapid pace."
NIST is organizing a summit on the issue of international standards on Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C.
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.