For many companies and nations, standardisation can provide competitive advantages, open up export and increase access to the global marketplace. This has led many emerging economies to draw an important lesson; namely to engage in international standardisation as a key strategy in increasing their share of trade. Developed economies have skilfully used standardisation as a tool to create new trade opportunities. However, countries in the developing world often find themselves at a disadvantage when faced with international standards that are not adjusted to their conditions. Standardisation can also cause several obstacles such as the lack of participation of many views and stakeholders in the setting of international standards, and the lack of capacity in implementing international standards.
While the former can lead to international standards not being adapted to the conditions of a certain economy and can make the standards less effective; the latter leads to increased costs and difficulties in applying the standards needed to increase exports. The two are, obviously, intertwined and both result in a lack of trade opportunities.
As time goes on, new areas evolve and become new issues for standardisation. Climate change, corporate social responsibility, crisis management and energy efficiency are all recent examples of areas that require engagement from a wide variety of stakeholders – including those from developing countries. In fact, production-related standards can be an efficient means of spurring climate change mitigation. While this is promising from a climate perspective, and may be less controversial than proposed tools such as border carbon measures, it does create considerable concerns in many developing countries who experience difficulties in complying with a growing body of national standards. How could emerging international standards on for example emissions reporting respond to these concerns, and facilitate trade in low carbon goods? How do such standards impact a developing country's opportunities to trade on the global market? How can the international community work together to ensure that in particular climate-relate standards create export opportunities for developing countries, as many of these countries have a comparative advantage in low-carbon production, rather than constitute obstacles? And how are they linked to positive and negative trade policy opportunities?
The objective of the SIS-ICTSD workshop was to discuss and raise awareness among the audience about the challenges, opportunities and risks for developing countries to actively involve in standardization work, to adopt and use international standards and how this could positively or negatively impact trade on a global marketplace. In particular, the session aimed to explore how international standards can enhance export opportunities and promote a green economy, rather than create trade obstacles. It also seeked to explore the way in which climate-related standards are evolving, how they might be used in the future, and what scope there is within the WTO to help exploit the positive opportunities and avoid potential negative impacts.
Joakim Reiter, Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the WTO, Permanent Mission of Sweden, Geneva
Jane Ngige, Kenya Flower Council (focus international climate standards and the flower sector of Kenya)
Stephen Isiko, Flona Commodities (Uganda, focus small-scale business implementing a carbon footprint of products standard on pineapples)
Indu Joshi, Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology (focus tea company in Nepal implementing carbon footprint of products standard)
Aaron Cosbey, IISD (focus trade policy opportunities)
Ingrid Jegou, ICTSD