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Standards Portal Symbolizes Launch of New Partnership Between U.S. & China

In this interview, Elise Owen, the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) program manager for China policy and representative for China affairs, discusses the new Standards Portal, an online resource that facilitates trade between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

Recent surveys conducted by the U.S.-China Business Council indicate that standardization issues are a major concern among U.S. companies competing in the Chinese market. What deciding factor led ANSI, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) to create the Standards Portal?

The impact of standards and regulations on the cross-border trade of goods and services has been steadily rising on the radars of business and government leaders in nations around the world. In the case of U.S.-China trade, there has been rapid transformation and tremendous growth. In 2004, China became one of our key trading partners in the service sector, receiving service exports from the U.S. in excess of $7 billion and sending more than $5.5 billion worth of services to us. Last year, U.S. commodity exports to China grew about 20%, making the nation our fastest-growing export market.

Regardless of industry or point of origin, business executives need access to definitive information about the standards and regulations that will affect the entrance of their products into a market. They need to understand the systems by which those standards and regulations are set. And they need to know how the standards and regulations that will impact their business can be influenced.

Unfortunately, language barriers often hinder the free flow of information and make it difficult for stakeholders to gain a complete understanding of the standards system or governing national policies in another nation.

In 2005, ANSI and NIST agreed to cooperate on the development of a resource that would promote market access, economic growth, innovation and business competitiveness by bridging gaps in language and understanding between the U.S. and China. The Standards Portal (www.StandardsPortal.org) is the outcome of that agreement.

The Portal addresses each nation’s standards system and the related national policies, provides information about and access to foreign and international standards, offers resources to make use of such standards and details information about how to participate in the development and or modification of such standards.

NIST provided a matching grant to support the website’s development. ANSI and SAC, the respective national standards bodies for the United States and the People’s Republic of China, provided educational content and manpower to make the website a reality. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) identified more than one third of the U.S. health and safety standards that are now referenced in the bilingual “Standards and Regulations” resource directory, and more than a dozen U.S.-based standards developing organizations—including the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)—contributed metadata to support the directory.

The Standards Portal contains dual-language educational materials on the operation of the U.S. and Chinese standards systems, a database of 2,000 standards critical to trade between the two nations and access to nearly 300,000 other standards and guidelines. How will ANSI maintain/update a portal of this size to ensure that it reflects the latest standards information?

The launch of the Standards Portal would not have been possible without the cooperation and input of partners from across the United States and China. Its upkeep will also be a collaborative effort.

ANSI will maintain the physical site and ensure its ongoing technical function. The next major addition of content will include a new section on conformity assessment and compliance programs. We will also rely on our members who are heavily engaged in China activities for input and cooperation. To this end, we are investigating the addition of a user interface that will facilitate the submission of content by third parties for consideration and possible inclusion on the Standards Portal.

SAC has developed and will maintain a Chinese-language entry point (www.StandardsPortal.org.cn). At the recent launch ceremony in Beijing, the SAC Administrator Liu Pingjun indicated his organization’s intent to develop additional information resources that will expand and enhance cooperation with the U.S. as well as other trading partners.

The Portal was designed so that it can easily grow to house new information gained through these outreach efforts. It will be updated and enriched according to the interest of the website’s users and other stakeholders.

Now that the portal has launched, how will ANSI track its progress/usage to determine if it is indeed advancing trade between the two nations? What kind of response has it received from industry stakeholders and policy officials in both the U.S. and China?

At this early stage, the best measure of success has been user feedback. Initial response has been very positive. Comments are submitted to ANSI and SAC directly from the Portal’s feedback page. We are also soliciting feedback and suggestions from ANSI members and through our close contact with contributing partners such as ASSE.

We are compiling and monitoring metrics such as the number of visits to the Portal and the percentage of repeat visits. Spikes in traffic volume were seen upon the site’s U.S. launch in September and again during the time of the launch ceremony in Beijing. Overall, site visits have surpassed expectations, and each week, new visitors from the U.S. and China subscribe to the notification service to receive e-mail alerts of site updates. This response demonstrates the strong need for clear information on standards in the U.S. and China and their impact on trade and consumer health and safety.

How will the Standards Portal help to influence occupational safety and health in China? Have the Chinese public and private sectors expressed interest in American health, safety, and environmental (EHS) voluntary national consensus standards?

China’s eleventh “Five-Year National Economic and Social Development Plan” outlines high expectations for investment and improvement in various facets of environmental, health and safety (EHS) policies and standards. T his indicates that the nation’s top leadership is placing a strong emphasis on EHS considerations and their affect on China’s overall progress and development.

In general, China has expressed a preference for adopting international standards such as those developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). However, China’s directives allow the adoption of “advanced foreign national standards” where an appropriate international standard does not exist. These policies and trends create significant opportunities for U.S.-based companies and organizations to engage with China in international forums and to promote the acceptance and use of U.S. standards directly.

The Portal highlights the U.S. approach to standardization in the EHS area and encourages greater openness and transparency in Chinese developments. It not only builds awareness of the standards that have been developed and adopted for use in the U.S., but it also helps Chinese stakeholders understand how to provide input into the U.S. process for developing the standards and technical regulations.

Do you believe that the Standards Portal will impact future international standards development activities? Why or why not?

We believe that the Portal will assist international standards development activities. The Portal aims to provide information on standards and their impact on trade to the business communities in the U.S. and China. We hope that this will ultimately increase investment and participation in international standards development activities, particularly by companies and manufacturers.

Does ANSI plan to develop similar portals (or other online resources) to encourage trade between the U.S. and other nations?

The Portal’s structure was designed exactly for this purpose. It can easily expand to accommodate the addition of content on other national standards systems. As appropriate, the U.S. section of the site may be translated into other languages. This will be useful in performing outreach and education to other countries beyond China.

Biography

Elise Owen serves as the American National Standards Institute’s program manager for China policy and representative for China affairs. In this position, she is responsible for building and maintaining relations with the Institute’s counterparts in the People’s Republic of China. She also facilitates coordination and cooperation among ANSI’s private and public sector contacts that are engaged in China-related activities.

Owen joined ANSI in March 2006 from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. As an international trade specialist, she worked to increase U.S.-China trade and to resolve individual and systemic bilateral concerns on standards and related areas. Prior to this, Owen worked as school director with American Educational Services, Inc., establishing and operating an English language school in Dalian, China.

Owen is proficient in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, graduating with honors and certified by the Defense Language Institute and Foreign Language Center, where she served in the United States Army. She holds a master degree in business administration from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and earned her undergraduate degree at Regent’s College, graduating with honors from both.