Representatives of the United States and 37 other nations agreed today to launch a system for assessing the accuracy and reliability of measurements made worldwide, aiding efforts to resolve technical and regulatory differences that impede global trade flows.
Calling for "mutual recognition of national measurement standards and of calibration and measurement certificates issued by national metrology institutes (NMIs)," the arrangement was signed near Paris during the 21st quadrennial meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures. Established by treaty, the 48-member body is responsible for the international system of measurement units.
Most of the 10 remaining nations are expected to sign later.
The United States was represented by Karen Brown, deputy director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency in the Commerce Department's Technology Administration.
The arrangement establishes a formal system of "key" measurement comparisons among the chief measurement organizations in the signer nations. Carefully controlled round-robin exercises, these comparisons establish how closely a particular measurement (of voltage, force or length, for example) performed at one NMI agrees with results of counterpart institutes in other countries.
Levels of agreement establish the basis for linking measurements across international borders. Measurement traceability is a matter of considerable importance to many exporters and to companies that seek quality system registration. Elements of ISO 9000 and other such quality standards require firms to demonstrate process measurements are linked to an NMI.
In addition, measurement requirements often are central to regulations and voluntary standards. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 80 percent of all global trade of finished products is affected in some way by standards and regulations.
Compliance is demonstrated through product testing, certification or other so-called conformity assessment procedures. Because of missing links in the global chain of measurement traceability, exported products may have to undergo duplicative testing to enter foreign markets, causing delays and increasing the cost of doing business.
Measurement comparability, as enabled by the international arrangement, should help to eliminate some of these technical barriers to trade.
All nations can participate in the new system, the first phase of which will become operational later this year. Through its membership in one of the world's six regional metrology organizations, an NMI can list its measurement capabilities in a portion of an international database system, accessible via the Internet and hosted by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.
Committees of measurement experts will review how these capabilities are linked to key comparisons and whether the results are sufficient to support the levels of accuracy reported by an NMI for a particular measurement service.
The international comparisons database was developed and pilot-tested at NIST, which has been a strong proponent of efforts to strengthen measurement traceability links on a global basis. NIST will maintain and further develop the system.
In a separate arrangement, signed on Oct. 5, NIST and the European Commission pledged, among other things, to cooperate on efforts to establish measurement equivalence and to further development of the database of international measurement comparisons.
As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST strengthens the U.S. economy and improves the quality of life by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards through four partnerships: the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, the Advanced Technology Program, and the Baldrige National Quality Program.