What are Standards?
The formal definition of “standards” from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and its sister organization, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is: “a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.” The International Standards Organization (ISO) offers a variety of resources for small businesses to learn more about standards.
According to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade standards are considered one of the “technical” measures to international trade. TheTrade4MSME guide on technical barriers to trade provides more information.
Unlike technical regulations, standards are not mandatory and only require businesses to comply with them voluntarily. However, voluntary standards can become the de facto norm and governments may later use them as the basis for mandatory regulations.
What types of standards are there?
Standards can be specific to certain products, services, or sectors. According to the International Standards Organization (ISO), some of the most popular international standards adopted by businesses relate to:
- quality management,
- information security management,
- occupational health and safety
Standards can vary according to business activity or territorial jurisdiction. The majority of standards set guidelines for businesses that helps them manage functions and operations in areas such as:
- human resources,
- information and technology
Examples of standards include:
- Voluntary sustainability standards the Trade4MSMEs guide on Voluntary Sustainability Standards provides more detail.
- Standards for cross-border paperless trade, detailed information on these can be found in the Trade4MSMEs guide on Standards for Cross-Border Paperless Trade
The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) SME Competitiveness Outlook 2016 provides more information on the various types of standards and the organizations who oversee standard development, which may be useful for you to know.
How can standards support my business to trade?
Standards play an important role in international trade because they help to maintain and boost production efficiency, product quality, and customer confidence in cross-border business transactions.
As trade expands beyond national borders, all parts of the supply chain are important from new product innovation and design to sourcing the right materials into manufacturing, packaging, transportation, warehousing, distribution, consumer use, return and disposal. All the different stages rely on certain standards when considering international business. Getting certified for standards which are relevant to your business can help you develop international trade plans and enter new markets more efficiently and at pace.
The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) provides tutorials and videos including a useful tool, in the form of an online questionnaire, to complete your own self-assessment against various standards.
International Standards Organization (ISO) Small Business Advantage guide.
Where can I find further resources on standards?
- ISO and Small & Medium Enterprises: The International Standards Organization (ISO) offers a number of handbooks, manuals and guides for small businesses, to help prepare for the process of adopting standards in a variety of business subjects.
- ITC’s Export Quality Management Guide for small businesses: The International Trade Centre (ITC) provides a holistic guide to help small businesses learn more about the role of standards in international trade.
- ITC’s Standards Map: The International Trade Centre offers an analytical toolkit to help businesses review and compare over 300 different standards by product, sector, area or focus. This tool focuses on voluntary sustainability standards through codes of conduct, audit protocols, reporting frameworks and company programs on sustainability.
- A Guide to the IFRS for SMEs: The International Accounting Standards Board offers a guide on the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is a standard for businesses seeking to gain more access to capital by adopting high quality financial reporting principles.
Links to Supporting Information
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) COPOLCO (iso.org) definition of “standards.”
World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade WTO | Technical Barriers to Trade – Third Edition The WTO Agreements Series
The International Standards Organization (ISO) Small & Medium Enterprises ISO – ISO and Small & Medium Enterprises
The International Standards Organization (ISO) Small Business Advantage ISO – The small-business advantage
The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) SME Competitiveness Outlook 2016 SME Competitiveness Outlook: Meeting the Standard for Trade | ITC (intracen.org)
The International Trade Centre (ITC)’s Export Quality Management Guide for Small & Medium sized businesses Export Quality Management: A Guide for Small and Medium-Sized Exporters | ITC
The International Trade Centre (ITC)’s Standards Map Standards Map
The International Accounting Standards Board offers a guide on the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) guide to the IFRS for SMEs march 2016
Trade4MSMEs guide Technical Barriers to Trade
Trade4MSMEs guide Standards for Cross Border Paperless Trade
Trade4MSMEs guide Voluntary Sustainability Standards