What is a Standard?

According to the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO), standards are: “documented agreements containing technical specifications, requirements or other criteria to be used as rules or definitions of characteristics to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.” In other words, a standard is a technical document that states how to comply with a product directive. Also, safety standards provide assurances that a specific product will not cause injuries or death to their users.

Standards can pose significant barriers to international trade. For insiders, the development and enforcement of national standards based on their products’ unique properties can serve to protect national markets. However, for outsiders, the use of unique national standards in export markets can limit market access. As a result, the international struggles to differentiate or harmonise national standards in different countries are often key elements in the ongoing competition for international markets.

Overall, standards support market-based competition and help ensure the interoperability of complementary products and services. They reduce costs, improve safety, and enhance competition. In addition, standards ensure safe and quality products, services, and systems.

The use of safety standards is voluntary unless legislation, contracts or negotiated agreements (such as using ISO 9001) are applicable. More than 20 000 standards are available, covering almost every industry, from technology to food safety to agriculture and healthcare. Moreover, the standards are constantly withdrawn, newly developed or updated.

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