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INDA lobbies for fairly developed international quality and performance standards.

Congress asked to consider impact of standards on U.S. "competitiveness"; international standards causing concern within nonwovens industry

In an effort to lobby Congress for the establishment of fairly developed international quality and performance standards and test methods, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, has joined forces with the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM). The lobby grew out of a general concern that the European community is adopting mandatory standards that are difficult and expensive for U.S. manufacturers to meet.

While INDA supports the need for international standards, the efforts on this issue are intended to ensure that the development of these standards is placed in the hands of an able, impartial, consensus-based body.

The European Community is changing. Under the EC 1992 initiative, the independent countries throughout Europe are negotiating the development of a unified economic system that would result in a huge common market featuring - among other things - jointly adopted quality standards, performance standards and test methods. Simply stated, any product to be sold in a European country would have to meet these standards as a condition of sale.

Basically, under this unified system, the International Standards Organization (ISO) is relied upon to develop these common standards. ISO is the dominant standards-setting body in Europe and has been charged with proposing mandatory standards for the entire European community.

ISO proposes standards to the central European governing authority (CEN) and, if adopted by CEN, these standards become mandatory for anyone who wishes to sell products anywhere in Europe.

The Role of Standards

In International Trade

The idea of unified standards has merit for a number of reasons. In the first place, unified standards could make it far easier to sell products throughout Europe than currently possible. If, for instance, a U.S. nonwovens manufacturer wanted to sell products to Germany, Spain and France, that manufacturer would currently have to meet the individual standards of those three countries. It is entirely possible that the standards for each of those countries would be different.

While the U.S. manufacturer might make products that meet the standards of one or more of these countries, the products might not meet the standards of all three. If there were one "unified" standard, However, the manufacturer could design his products to meet that standard and then sell products anywhere in the European community.

Moreover, it is not unheard of for countries to use standards as a barrier to trade. Countries can do this by adopting standards that are difficult to meet by foreign manufacturers. Uniform standards would eliminate this practice as well.

ISO And The

Standards-Setting Process

While the goal of unified standards has appeal, there are concerns about the organization chosen to develop these standards. The ISO, for instance, can be somewhat unyielding in its approach to the task.

With nonwovens, for instance, the ISO only allows the U.S. one vote when it comes to adopting standards. This is despite the fact that the U.S. is the dominant worldwide manufacturer of nonwovens and it means that U.S. nonwovens manufacturers may find themselves overruled on key votes for political, rather than economic or practical, reasons.

INDA has already seen this happen on several occasions where ISO has adopted definitions and standard test methods that were vigorously opposed by U.S. nonwovens manufacturers. While these actions have not had a debilitating impact on the ability of U.S. manufacturers to sell their goods in Europe, INDA is concerned about the possible ramifications of this system in the future.

Congressional Involvement

INDA is not alone in its concerns. In fact, within the U.S. House of Representatives, the Technology and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee is currently reviewing the issue of international standards and their impact on U.S. competitiveness.

According to subcommittee staff, one of the major issues being reviewed is the use of standards by foreign countries to block U.S. exports. The subcommittee is also very interested in efforts by countries such as Germany and Japan to have their standards adopted by developing countries that currently do not have standards (U.S. manufacturers who wish to export to a certain country in Africa, for instance, may find that the country has already adopted German or Japanese performance standards for products that are not produced anywhere in the country).

INDA has met with Rep. Tim Valentine (D-NC), chairman of the Technology and Competitiveness Subcommittee, to discuss these issues and to request that Congress consider the role of ISO in the adoption of European standards. After relating some of the difficulties we have had with the ISO, INDA called for continued congressional review of the issue and the need for consensus-based standard-setting bodies in Europe.

During its meeting with Rep. Valentine, INDA also expressed support for fairly-developed international standards and organizations such as ASTM, which allow a fuller participation in the standards-setting process by industry members.

At press time, the Technology and Competitiveness Subcommittee had scheduled six hearings into the general issue of U.S. international competitiveness. One of these hearings will specifically address the issue of international standards and will feature testimony from ASTM, ANSI and others.

INDA supports the efforts of the Technology and Competitiveness Subcommittee and encourages a thorough review of all the issues involved. In the fast-changing world of international trade there is a tremendous need for standards-setting bodies - like ASTM - that are fair, impartial and consensus-based. If major segments of an industry are locked out of the standard-setting process due to political, geographic or nationalistic reasons (as can happen under the ISO process), it could result in the eventual deterioration of the international economy.

Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. He works out of the Washington, DC offices of Keller & Heckman, INDA's legal counsel. This Capital Comments column appears monthly in nonwovens industry.
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Title Annotation:Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry
Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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