This article was originally published in the IEEE Communications Standards Magazine.
What is an International Standard?
What is an international standard? The generally accepted understanding is one that is developed with a process that meets the WTO TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) principles for good practices in developing standards.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) members use a series of international agreements that work to prevent or resolve practices that are or could be barriers to free trade among countries. Traditional barriers to trade could include things like some forms of tariffs or special import or export requirements or inspections designed to exclude non-domestic producers of goods. Most regulations and testing requirements are based on standards but sometimes standards could be used in discriminatory trade practices, rather than ensuring objective measures, safety, or health of the product users.
The WTO has identified six important principles of good regulatory practices in the development of international standards. Processes used to develop standards that embrace these six principles are considered true international standards.
What are WTO’s Key Principles of International Standards Development?
Standards must be developed in processes that allow due notice about the work, and the opportunity for all who are interested or affected to participate. This includes a chance for all participants in the process as well as interested parties who are not directly part of the process to have the opportunity to provide comments on the document during its development process. Information about the subject and scope should be readily available, and a work program that provides public information on the projects under development.
IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) has specific requirements about disclosure of rosters, voting members and member affiliations in the standards process. Public comment and drafts of documents are available to all interested parties in the IEEE SA Standards Development process.
Participation in an international standardization body should be open to all interested parties across all stages of the development process without discrimination to any. International standards processes that provide this openness supports the widespread adoption and use of the resulting standards.
Although participation in the standards processes may require meeting fees or Entity Membership fees, these fees are equitable for all participants and open to all interested parties.
- Impartiality and Consensus
The development process of an international standard should be structured so that all parties have meaningful opportunities to contribute, and there is no privilege or favoritism to any technical interests, commercial interests, groups, regions or national interests. Procedures must not only collect and recognize conflicting viewpoints, but also make good faith efforts to reconcile them whenever possible. Decisions should be reached through consensus whenever possible. Processes for voting, charges for any fees, and dissemination of the drafts must be free of discrimination or exclusion.
All decisions in IEEE working groups are consensus based, and disclosure of affiliation is required. Processes are in place to minimize the risk of potential dominance by parties or groups.
- Effectiveness & relevance
Standards have to be relevant and be usable to meet market and regulatory needs. They should also take into account scientific and technological developments without favor to any group, region or technology. It is essential that to the greatest extent possible, standards should be written as performance based (specifying measurable attributes or conditions) rather than design based (specifying a specific construction, materials, or design). Standards that are design based, in general, inhibit future innovation. The international standards process should also have a process for a periodic review of the relevance of a standard after publication, to ensure continued relevance, effectiveness and technological relevance.
IEEE SA projects are agile and open to all so new technologies and scientific developments are openly welcomed. Collaboration across IEEE societies and technical initiatives as well as geographic sections and chapters, along with IEEE’s motto of Advancing Technology for Humanity, serve as guideposts to promote meeting market needs and needs of society through international standardization.
To the greatest extent possible, international standards bodies should strive to ensure that each standard produced aligns with its published scope. In addition, the International standards developers should strive to avoid producing standards that are in conflict with related standards or have duplication and overlapping requirements with other relevant international standards.
Oversight by the IEEE SA Standards Board and Its committees as well as publication of all Standards Committees P&Ps and Project Authorization Requests (PARs), in addition to public comment on projects themselves, help to allow for minimal overlap and duplication of standardization projects.
- Development dimension
Additional steps in the process of developing international standards should also recognize that potential participants from developing countries may find barriers to participation in the rules, processes, or economic constraints involved. Additional steps may be required to ensure the access and voices of these countries are heard and can be accessed through additional support, outreach or technical means.
IEEE membership is not required for many of the standardization activities, and moderate fees are required for participation. Recently due to travel restrictions from the Pandemic, the option of participation through electronic web based means has been fully realized. As a result, even broader participation is possible, especially by experts in developing regions. The IEEE SA also has a Government Engagement Program for representatives of government agencies and regulators to have direct access and engagement to IEEE SA governance. Today’s participants from 35 countries represent many developing economies and are broadening the voices in the SA governance structure as well.
In the IEEE, through the processes managed by the IEEE SA, ALL IEEE standards fully comply with the six principles outlined in the WTO Decision on Principles for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations with Relation to Articles 2, 5 and Annex 3 of the TBT Agreement. IEEE Standards produced by either of two development methods are fully equivalent and both meet the stated principles described by the WTO. They are fully acceptable as international standards, and are recognized and used globally and adopted by many countries through their national standards processes.
The two methods used in IEEE are the Individual process and the Entity process. As explained in the IEEE SA Standards Board Operations Manual these are shown in Table 1. For contrast, the generic IEC and ISO process is also shown.
The procedures, requirements, and steps needed to produce an IEEE standard by the Individual method or the Entity method are both essentially identical and produce equivalent results. With the safeguards in place in the IEEE processes, both are also fully compliant with the six key WTO TBT Principles.
Table 1: Comparison of IEEE SA individual Process, IEEE SA Entity Process and generic IEC / ISO processes.
What is IEEE SA’s Entity Standards Development Process?
Currently within the IEEE SA, about one in five standards projects are being developed using the entity method. The IEEE SA Entity members span across 25 countries in all regions of the world, and as shown in Figure 1, have grown significantly including during the Pandemic period. As of April 2021, there were 394 Entity members currently engaged in production of standardization projects.
While the IEEE SA Entity process is less well known than the Individual standards process, both are robust, well tested approaches which result in valued and equivalent international standards. Users around the world accept and trust IEEE standards for their technical needs.