Standards and technical regulations affect everyone’s life in one way or another. For example, when we travel to other parts of the world, we expect such things as our electrical gadgets to plug readily into existing infrastructure. Many international travelers will attest to the complications they endure due to technical incompatibility issues.
Therefore, standards should be developed by those who know the area in question, the processes and most importantly the problem that the resulting standards intend to solve. ISO refers to those involved in drafting standards as experts.
The Importance of Technical Standards
Besides being important to consumers, standards are pivotal to facilitating trade in today’s global village. By using international standards, companies are able to trade internationally without having to worry about adapting the products to suit a particular market.
When products are manufactured to specific standards, consumers are guaranteed of the products’ fitness for purpose. In addition, standardized products facilitate repairs and promote competition, which can help reduce the product’s cost without compromising the quality of the product. Standards are increasingly critical to global trade as well as to the protection of public health, safety and the environment.
Stakeholder Participation in Setting Standards
However, the important role of stakeholder participation in the standards development process is often underestimated. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) suggests that national participation in the standardization process should be organized under the auspices of the appropriate national standards body (NSB) or standards development organization (SDO), which often is a member of the relevant international standards organization.
The Standards Alliance Facility and the Trade Hub
Realizing the importance of effective participation from stakeholders in the standards development process, the United States Government, through its Standards Alliance facility, is providing technical assistance to help developing countries improve their standards development process and private sector outreach.
The Standards Alliance Facility is a new United States assistance program to support developing countries with implementation of commitments under the WTO TBT Agreement. Under the Standards Alliance Facility, the Trade Hub is currently implementing several activities in Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia.
Activities include developing and providing technical training programs for standards experts, institutional and organizational capacity building in standards development, and developing and implementing legal and regulatory frameworks for standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment. In addition, the Trade Hub assists with outreach and communication strategies for increasing public and private sector awareness on the benefits of international standards.
Specifically in relationship to improving the standards development process and promoting private sector outreach and communication, the Trade Hub is helping Lesotho and Malawi with stakeholder awareness seminars, national roadshows as well as re-launching the Lesotho National Standards and Quality Awards.
In addition to the above, the Trade Hub is providing assistance to other countries in the region through SADC's Cooperation in Standardization (SADCSTAN).