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United States and European Union Go 'Measure-for-Measure' for Free Trade

For Immediate Release: October 5, 1999

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Contact: Mark Bello
301-975-3776

Brussels, Belgium—The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, and the Commission of the European Communities today signed an agreement that opens the way for mutual acceptance of product and process-related measurements performed on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. The new pact is a major step toward eliminating redundant product testing and other technical obstacles that can impede the flow of goods between the world's largest trading partners.

"The Implementing Arrangement for Cooperation in the Fields of Metrology and Measurement Standards" will lead to a trans-Atlantic system for assessing measurement equivalence. Such a system will help regulators in the United States and European nations to determine whether imported products meet the importing country's requirements, without additional testing.

Signed by NIST Director Raymond Kammer and Jorma Routti, director-general of the EC's Research Directorate, the implementing arrangement furthers the aims of "The New Trans-Atlantic Agenda," launched by President Clinton and the European Council of Ministers in December 1995.

In particular, the new arrangement will lead to a formal system for comparing measurements. Such a system is deemed integral to the free trade goals of the "U.S.- European Union Mutual Recognition Agreement," which went into effect last December. Covering six product areas that account for $50 billion in trans-Atlantic trade, the MRA calls for either party to accept as equivalent the results of tests, inspections and other evaluations performed by accredited laboratories or organizations on either continent.

Today's signing was preceded by an 18-month study involving NIST, its counterpart national metrology institutes-or NMIs-in Europe, and more than 70 regulatory agencies in 18 nations. Researchers compared the capabilities of NIST and the other NMIs in performing measurements critical to securing regulatory approval of products in five of the six categories included in the MRA.

The study established measurement equivalence between NIST and the European NMIs, finding no differences of "practical importance." Non-technical issues, it concluded, are responsible for problems in securing regulators' acceptance in export markets, whether the United States or the European Union.

That's why a framework permitting regulators to assess measurement equivalence among NMIs on both continents should facilitate mutual recognition of test results performed by other types of organizations, such as accredited private-sector laboratories. Regulators typically require measurements performed by these laboratories to be linked directly to an NMI.

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST strengthens the U.S. economy and improves the quality of life by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards through four partnerships: the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, the Advanced Technology Program, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Baldrige National Quality Program.