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Dialogues on Standards Help U.S. Firms

Efforts by the U.S. Department of Commerce are helping U.S. exporters to overcome technical barriers to trade in Brazil and India.

by Renee Hancher

U.S. companies trying to sell their products in foreign markets face the challenge of differing standards, testing, and conformity assessment procedures. Redundant or additional testing requirements may delay a product’s entry into a market or increase the product’s cost so that it is non-competitive. At worst, differing standards can keep products entirely out of a market.

Many U.S. companies approach the government for assistance in working through technical barriers to trade. The Department of Commerce uses many avenues to try to resolve problems relating to standards, testing, and certification. Those ways include bilateral consultations, multilateral negotiations under the World Trade Organization’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, and exchanges on technical barriers to trade with free trade agreement partners.

Discussions with Major Trading Partners

Since 2005, the United States has undertaken a series of more focused discussions of standards-related issues with some of its major trading partners, including Brazil and India. Such exchanges help parties in both countries to better understand how regulations are developed, why mandatory standards are needed to fulfill regulatory requirements, and how conformity assessment programs operate.

India Dialogue Sets Pattern

A standards dialogue with India was first initiated in 2005, and subsequent dialogues with other countries have followed the same format. First, the partner country and the United States discuss their own regulatory systems. Next, the two countries exchange information about their standards development systems. Then, the countries consider approaches to conformity assessment.

After those fundamentals have been fully addressed, the focus of the dialogues narrows to specific products or industries where there may be a current market access issue or an opportunity to cooperate as a new or improved technology develops. For example, in 2006, because of the ongoing standards dialogue, the United States received detailed information about new Indian regulations affecting medical devices.

Brazil Dialogue Addresses Alternative Fuels and More

In June 2006, Brazil and the United States launched a standards dialogue when Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez traveled to Brazil to begin the U.S.–Brazil Commercial Dialogue (see June 2006 issue of International Trade Update). Cooperation on standards forms an important part of this dialogue. Since the initial face-to-face meetings and later videoconferences in 2006, Brazil and the United States have already agreed to a collaborative program on metrology and standards for alternative fuels.

In both of those standards dialogues, participants included not only government officials, but also representatives from national standards developing bodies, testing laboratories, and companies. Private-sector participation is critical to the process because the dialogues present an opportunity to showcase the market-driven, private sector–led standardization system that exists in the United States—a system that encourages innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth.

Although there are no specific plans to launch dialogues with other trading partners, it is quite possible that there will be more in the future, because such dialogues afford a rare opportunity for information exchange and relationship building in a complex area of trade policy.

Renee Hancher is an international economist in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Multilateral Affairs.


For more information

Information from past and present standards dialogues is available on the Web site of the Department of Commerce’s Office of the ITA Standards Liaison. This site contains records from each session of the Brazil dialogue, including the presentations made by each country, and it serves as a useful resource for those interested in learning more about standards, testing, and conformity assessment practices in major export markets.