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Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Prosperity Agenda

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Comments to the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration

Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Prosperity Agenda

April 28, 2005

ASTM International welcomes the opportunity to provide comments on current standards-related issues in the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Prosperity Agenda. While we share the vision of a seamless North American marketplace as expressed by leaders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, we are focusing our comments on current policies of the Mexican government that unfairly limit the recognition, acceptance and use of international standards. We find the actions of the Mexican government to be inconsistent with existing international trade commitments, harmful to the competitiveness of certain U.S. industries, and disruptive to the goal of achieving greater regional cooperation in standards and technical regulation throughout North America.

 

ASTM International Standards

 

ASTM International is the largest and one of the oldest U.S. domiciled international standards developing organizations. ASTM International facilitates the development of technical standards for over 90 industrial sectors including steel, copper, plastics, building construction, roads, petroleum, textiles, adhesives, medical devices, sports equipment, air quality, water quality, consumer product safety, nuclear energy, industrial chemicals, etc. About 30,000 individual technical experts from 118 countries participate in the drafting of ASTM International standards.

The standards that are produced by the ASTM process have been selected for use in more regulations in more countries than we have been able to count. We believe that it is our system of direct participation, unqualified openness, and dedication to freedom of choice that attracts our global participants. What is perhaps most important, however, is that where these standards are used, the levels of health and safety are raised. We know that the quality of life is enhanced, and that the environment is more sustainable. All evidence seems to point to the conclusion that the selection process has raised the bar for excellence in all of the processes. And that is a clear benefit for everyone. It is global progress.

WTO TBT Agreement and International Standards

Standards are vital to everyday commerce and trade. Developed through a deliberative process and founded on extensive research, standards effectively provide for a level playing field and ensure that two parties involved in a contract or two nations involved in trade are able to communicate clearly, in a common language. The World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement has established certain rules and procedures that pertain to the development, adoption and application of mandatory technical regulations, voluntary product standards, and the procedures used to determine compliance with those standards and regulations. Under this reasoned and well-articulated approach, international standards are recognized based on the transparency, openness, and impartiality in their development process rather than the label they bear or their source.

Standards Barriers in Mexico

While ASTM International standards are accepted and used throughout the world as the basis for contracts, codes, and regulations, we have found that in some countries - including Mexico - government policies and laws prohibit the use of de facto international standards such as those developed by ASTM International. Through the Federal Metrology and Standardization Law, the Mexican government limits recognized international standards to those of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and a few designated others. Citing this law, Mexico considers organizations such as ASTM International to be "foreign" rather than "international," reducing the value of their official acceptance of our standards. In addition, Mexico’s Federal Purchasing, Leasing, and Services for Public Services Law prohibits Federal administration entities from adopting or referencing "foreign" standards.

As a result of these policies, international standards developed through U.S. domiciled standards development organizations such as ASTM International and others are often arbitrarily precluded from being accepted and used in Mexico, despite their superior quality and relevancy. While these policies are inconsistent with the intent of the WTO TBT Agreement and harmful to the best interests of ASTM International, they can also be disadvantageous to the efforts of many businesses to compete in Mexico.

Recommendations

 

The best standards in the world should not have any barriers to their use. Rather than basing decisions regarding the acceptance of standards on the label the standards bear or their source, Mexican laws and policies in standardization matters should conform to the obligations of the WTO TBT Agreement and permit the definition of "international standard" to include international standards development organizations - such as ASTM International - whose charter is subject to demonstrating an open, transparent, and balanced manner of development for consensus standards.

Continued attention from U.S. government officials - including the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commence- is necessary and welcomed to ensure that Mexico meets its obligations under the WTO TBT Agreement. ASTM International would welcome direct U.S government intervention to communicate a clear and concise statement of U.S. trade policy reaffirming that WTO TBT Agreement definitions and principles. This action will reinforce the goals of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Prosperity Agenda, particularly the desired outcome of preventing standards and technical regulations from serving as barriers to trade.

In closing, ASTM International appreciates the assistance it receives from the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce and looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively in the development and implementation of positions on technical and standards policy issues at the international level. Please feel free to contact ASTM International’s office in Washington, D.C., at 202/223-8505, or our Global Headquarters at 610/832-9687, if we can provide additional information.

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