public–private cooperation in standards development and government use of private standards. Recommendations on international trade policy in this chapter focus on proactive efforts to enhance present and future export opportunities. Finally, recommendations are made to strengthen the nation's capacity to acquire, analyze, and disseminate critical information about international standards and conformity assessment. Measures to anticipate and deter future barriers to trade linked to standards and certification are also outlined.

Conformity Assessment

Previous studies of the U.S. standards system have emphasized the processes by which standards are developed.1 As this report has demonstrated, however, these mechanisms account for only part of the economic and societal impact of standards. The increasingly complex U.S. and international mechanisms for assessing product and process conformity to standards are also significant. These mechanisms include product testing and certification; certification of manufacturing processes such as quality control systems; accreditation of laboratories and certifiers; and government recognition of accreditors, among others. As Chapter 3 outlines, there is increasing demand by customers and government regulators for independent (third-party) assurance of conformity, both in the United States and abroad. The growing complexity of the system imposes uncertainty and cost on U.S. manufacturers. It poses challenges to public and private actors in the U.S. conformity assessment system to keep pace with rapid change.

Significant improvement is needed in the U.S. system for assessing conformity of products and processes to standards. Our system has become increasingly complex, costly, and burdensome to national welfare. This is reflected in unnecessary duplication and unwarranted layers of complexity at the federal, state, and local levels. Manufacturers are increasingly forced to perform redundant tests and obtain repetitive certifications for products sold in different parts of the country. Testing laboratories pay unnecessary fees and undergo duplicative audits to demonstrate their competence to multiple federal, state, and local authorities. The result is higher costs for U.S. manufacturers, public procurement agencies, testing laboratories, product certifiers, and consumers.

Data on the precise magnitude of these costs in the U.S. economy are lacking. The rapid growth of U.S. independent testing services, currently accounting for more than $10 billion in annual revenue, is nevertheless an indication of the expansion of the conformity assessment system. Chapter 3 contains many specific examples of duplications in product testing and accreditation. In addition, a 1993 study of environmental testing laboratory accreditation commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified a potential for nationwide cost reduction of approximately 28 percent.2 This saving could be achieved through elimination of redundant accreditation requirements among local, state, and federal agencies.

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