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Messages from "Economic Trend", December 2008

Saluting Those Who Work on International Standardization

Vice Chairman of the Board of Councillors, Nippon Keidanren
Chairman, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation

According to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), this year there were 58 Japanese experts in secretariat positions with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and 15 with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). At both organizations, however, the Japanese contingent is less than half the size of the largest group, the Germans. Siemens AG, the German electrical and electronics manufacturer, invests 0.1% of its sales revenue (approximately 12 billion yen) in international standardization. While Japanese companies are increasingly cognizant of the importance of international standardization, Europe and the US are ahead of Japanese industry. Japan should also remind itself that China and South Korea are quickly catching up in the area of standardization.

With the increasing globalization of corporate activities, World Trade Organization (WTO) member nations are required to comply with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) and expected to comply with the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) (on a voluntary basis only). These requirements mean that even the most superior technology or product will never reach the international market if it does not meet international standards. International standardization and one of its core components, intellectual property, are essential for today's companies. We are coming into an age when the size and substance of a company's standardization team is directly tied to its international competitiveness.

Fortunately, the government and universities of Japan have begun a concerted effort to educate and train human resources in standardization. The ICT Standardization and Intellectual Property Promotion Center was established in July of this year with the backing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. METI and Japanese universities are developing educational programs designed to train specialists in standards applied throughout the world.

Japanese companies must also provide training in standardization, not only to specialists, but also to non-specialist employees, to broaden understanding of the importance of international standardization. Presenting young employees with opportunities to attend international conferences early in their careers is another useful tool for fostering awareness of these issues.

Since June of last year, Nippon Keidanren's publication Econcomic Trend has carried 14 articles on Japanese businesspeople working on the front lines of international standardizaton. Their stories have reinforced my impression that establishing international standards which transcend differences in situation, values and language is no ordinary task. This work requires the sincerity and hard work needed to build positive relationships with committee members from other countries, as well as the patience and rational arguments needed to explain one's positions. I am sure there are also many aspects of the work done on the international stage that go unnoticed by employees working in an ordinary office. I hope that corporate managers will pay closer attention to the work their colleagues are doing in international standardization and offer even greater support to help them succeed in their task.

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