On 17 September 2010 it was my pleasure on behalf of Standards Australia to present at the GAP National Economic Review: Australia’s Growth Summit 2010 . This is a summary of my remarks which focused on highlighting the importance of Standards and how they help foster and underpin international trade and investment.
For those of you who are not very familiar with Standards Australia it is the nation’s peak non-government Standards development organisation. It is charged by the Commonwealth Government to meet Australia’s need for contemporary, internationally aligned Standards and related services.
The work of Standards Australia enhances the nation’s economic efficiency, international competitiveness and contributes to community demand for a safe and sustainable environment.
Standards Australia is extensively involved in supporting the expansion and development of international trade.
As members of Pacific Area Standards Congress, the International Organization for Standardization, the International Electrotechnical Commission, we actively contribute to the development of both Australian, joint Australian and New Zealand Standards and also International standards ranging from business and management standards such as risk management, through to iron ore sampling, societal security and dimensions of freight containers.
(International Organization for Standardization), together with IEC
(International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU
(International Telecommunication Union), has over the years built a strategic partnership with the world’s key international trade organisation the WTO
(World Trade Organisation) with the common goal of promoting an open and fair multilateral trading system.
The political agreements reached within the framework of the WTO require underpinning by technical agreements. ISO, IEC and ITU, as the three principal organisations in international standardisation, have the complementary scopes, frameworks, expertise and experience to provide this technical infrastructure support for the growth of the global market.
The WTO's Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement recognises the important contribution that International Standards and conformity assessment systems can make to improving efficiency of production and facilitating global trade.
Participation in international standards development is strategically important, could I suggest even critical to Australia and our national interest. It not only gives us a seat “at the table” in terms of key international standards development but also gives us an unparalleled opportunity to contribute and gain access to new emerging frontiers of growth and development.
A notable example to demonstrate this point is that Australia is playing a key role internationally with respect to Standardisation in the field of nanotechnology.
Australia's interests in nanotechnology are very well represented. Standards Australia was a founding member of the ISO TC 229 Nanotechology Technical Committee and now holds a position on the Chairman’s Advisory Group of the Committee. This work is jointly resourced by the National Enabling Technologies Strategy and Standards Australia.
Standards Australia also supports the Australian Government’s engagement with APEC
(Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) via the APEC Sub Committee on Standards and Conformance. Australia currently has six Free Trade Agreements in place with another seven under negotiation.
The Standards, Technical Regulations, Conformance Assessment Procedures chapters of bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements are very important in fostering global trade and investment behind the border.
International standards have a crucial role to play in benefiting societies through introducing a “common denominator” globally. This of course has downstream benefits to governments, industry and consumers alike.
In the brief time available I wanted to touch on two industry case studies from traditional to emerging sectors to demonstrate how Standards provide, significant but often, overlooked contribution to underpinning the global exchange of goods and services.
The first case study I would like to focus on is in one of the traditional areas of standardisation. It however, highlights the importance and critical role Standardisation plays in fostering global trade in the mining sector.
Iron Ore, which is a major export commodity for Australia, where some 85-90 per cent of production is exported is a case in point. Contracts for the sale of minerals are based on estimates of the mineral content of ores and concentrates.
These estimates in turn depend on samples taken from the ore body (either at the extraction site, or on a conveyor belt or at some other point in the extraction and transport of the mineral).
The accuracy of the estimates depends crucially on how representative the sample is of the full body of ore. There are sound scientific principles of good sampling and the adoption of these principles can increase the accuracy of the mineral content estimates.
The bias and precision of mineral samples affect both the buyer and seller of commodities. The seller in particular needs to ensure that the contract price properly reflects the content of the ores.
A downward bias, for example, in sampling may result in a lower price for the commodity based on a false perception of the mineral content of the commodity. More accurate sampling would allow the seller to negotiate a higher price than otherwise.
The total average annual benefits that flow from sampling standards in the mining sector are estimated to be $58 million per year. This date is sourced from a study undertaken by the Centre for International Economics (2006), “Standards and the Economy”.
This standardisation example along with other national interest work across the mining sector in areas such as coal, precious metals and value adding areas such as jewellery, provides significant employment, export revenue and wealth generation for our nation.
Turning to a new emerging area of activity I would like to talk about Health Informatics which is more generally known as E-Health. Standards Australia working together with Australia’s national health organisations, Government, Industry and Consumers develop national standards.
Our committee members and nominating organisations also contribute to international standards development and this provides Australia with an opportunity to highlight the cutting edge work that is being done.
It may be worth noting that the Commonwealth Government through the Department of Health and Ageing recognises the strategic importance of having Australian representatives at the table when international standards are being developed.
To this end, the Department funds health experts to attend meetings and ensure that Australia is at the forefront of standards development.
The significant benefits of Australia’s engagement in the critical sector are manifold:
- Reduces costs to Australia. There are significant benefits in terms of interoperability across multiple healthcare settings and environments where the right information is provided to the right people at the right time.
- Avoidance of duplication, both nationally and internationally.
- Participation leverages international expertise and fosters innovation.
- Makes Australian vendors internationally competitive.
One of our key stakeholders is NEHTA (The National E-Health Transition Authority). In NEHTA’s Strategic Plan, the benefits of Standardisation in E-Health highlighted include:
- Congruence of nationally agreed formats for information transfer, resulting in reduced development costs and decreased fragmentation. This is extremely important for industry and increases productivity efficiencies with reduced cycle times.
- Understanding of the broader vision and greater visibility of the e-health landscape enables industry to plan for, and implement, new product and service offerings.
- Future initiatives continue to drive innovation and opportunities for products and services including export orientated opportunities for Australian companies in particular SMEs.
- International standards have been and continue to be adopted in Australia, allowing for ease of market entry, and minimal modification of products across geographic boundaries.
- Participation ensures Australia is up to date and is involved in driving and shaping international healthcare. For example, we are involved in TC 215 – Health Informatics and Health Level 7 – Messaging standards for healthcare.
- In one of the Working Groups within TC 215 Working Group 8 which covers Business Requirements for Electronic Health Records we don’t just simply participate in the work but we lead the work in that we hold the convenorship of this working group.
- Australia also leads several other projects in this ISO Technical Committee. Again demonstrating that Australia is at the leading edge of International Standards development work and is seen as being a valuable contributor.
It is important to stress that this “story” is not unique but is duplicated in many areas of Standards Australia’s work.
An Australian Standard currently under development deals with Olive Oil. Standards Australia is currently working with the Australian Olive Oil Association and a range of other key stakeholders to develop a Standard for Olive Oil that will cover definitions, range limits and new test methodology.
This Standard will bring greater clarity to defining different types of olive oil. The Australian Olive Oil Association has estimated that Australian producers may gain up to $29 million per annum if there is greater clarity around the definition of extra virgin olive oil.
Essentially the Standard will create a level playing field for producers and importers of olive oil into Australia.
This work will benefit local producers, consumers, exporters and importers by providing greater assurance that a product certified as meeting the Australian Standard meets consumer expectations.
Standards and Conformance is not an area that is always at the front of our minds but the requirements contained in these Standards form the technical basis enabling us to trade across borders with confidence.
In the international trade context Standards and Conformance assessment infrastructure provide greater surety and certainty for buyers and sellers alike.
International standards are a key building block as they provide the technical means by which political and economic trade agreements can be put into effect.
Ultimately, Standards based on consensus, a transparent and rigorous process, developed by a balance of interests can facilitate the creation a “level playing field” for all participants across the international trade value chain.
Damian Fisher is Senior Manager, International Engagement at Standards Australia. Damian is a key member of Standards Australia’s National Standards Body. He is responsible for coordinating and managing international standards work. He has extensive experience in international business, project management and business development. He has more than 28 years experience in international business and is a former senior Australian trade diplomat. Postings included appointment as Consul General and Senior Trade Commissioner based in Turkey. Damian also served with the Australian Embassy in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he was accredited as Counsellor (Commercial) and Senior Trade Commissioner for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. He is also a co-author of a number of publications including a book, Practice: Commercial and Legal Aspects Export Best, The Federation Press, Sydney.