Getting Global Standards Right in T-TIP

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As U.S. and EU trade negotiators meet this week in Brussels for the next round of “T-TIP,” we urge both sides to place particular emphasis on the ‘P’, the Partnership aspect of the undertaking.  Clearly, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership presents a significant opportunity to enhance and expand one of the most important bilateral trade relationships in history. One of the primary goals of T-TIP is to codify modern approaches to standardization and regulation that can be a model for the rest of the world.  We recognize that reaching this goal won’t be easy, particularly given the strong determination in some quarters to retain current approaches.  Nevertheless, moving beyond the status quo is a must if T-TIP is to achieve its full potential as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation in the United States, Europe and beyond.

For the United States and Europe to cement our global leadership in innovation and to set the bar for other major trading partners to follow, a T-TIP agreement must adopt an effective approach to global, market-driven standards. And, voluntary consensus-based standards are key as they establish the common core of expectations for tech products.  This approach relies on a broad array of stakeholders, with expertise on the topic, voluntarily coming together in a transparent process to develop, evaluate, refine, and adopt standards for high-value, high-demand products.  The results speak for themselves.  Nearly every major digital innovation has been built on voluntary, consensus-based standards.  These technology standards have transformed our global society – how we live, work, learn and play – and helped advance the global economy from the industrial age to the digital revolution. 

T-TIP is envisioned to generate new opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.  It is intended to break down barriers to new jobs, new products, and new services for consumers in both economies.  To accomplish this, it is essential for a T-TIP agreement to be forward-looking, encompassing principles that would significantly reduce nontariff trade barriers and could be used to establish global best practices for technical regulations.  Such principles should be based on:

  • An agreement on a broad definition of a global standard that includes the work of a diverse range of organizations;
  • Appropriate preferences for global standards over other types of standards;
  • A prohibition on prescriptive technical regulations (i.e., technology mandates) except where a government meets its burden to justify them on narrow and proven public interest grounds;
  • Standards development processes that include transparency, non-discrimination, open participation, consensus and the right of appeal; and,
  • Conformity assessment approaches that include transparency, non-discrimination and the right to appeal barriers or substantial delays to market entry.

Unfortunately, some are advocating that negotiators avoid even discussing, let alone reaching agreement on, standards development via T-TIP.  This view is short-sighted and unquestionably would limit economic expansion.  Further, it could reinforce the disturbing trend of “forced localization” practices in some countries, which, if left unchecked, threaten to upend the globally integrated economy and replace it with fragmented, closed systems.

An ambitious T-TIP agreement can establish a 21st-century benchmark for global consensus-driven standards and sound regulatory practices, and help ensure this approach is at the heart of the international digital economy.  By embracing a global, market-driven standardization system based on transparency, grounded in technical merit and open to all interested stakeholders and standards-setting organizations, T-TIP will generate new opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic, and enhance the global competitiveness of U.S. and EU businesses of all sizes.  We urge European and American negotiators to exert every effort this week to help make this a reality.

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