Protect our manufacturers and keep British standards off the negotiation table

Scott Steedman, Director of Standards at BSI, comments on the vital need for the government to protect UK manufacturers by keeping standards off the negotiation table when it comes to the US trade deal.

Manufacturers across the UK rely on standards for everything from machine safety and PPE to eco-design and packaging.

A wide range of technical standards support regulations that touch everyday life, making them crucial in fostering trust amongst consumers and keeping them safe.

We work closely and effectively with government, enabling our stakeholders to deliver the best outcomes and helping our manufacturers develop and grow both domestically and overseas.

The existing regulatory model in the UK provides British stakeholders with control and influence over standards that support domestic and international regulations.

They are developed by British businesses and British consumers, with more than 13,000 expert volunteers working alongside each other in specialist committees in every sector and industry.

These standards are agreed on the global stage to ensure that they are recognized internationally, facilitating trade with other countries.

We have traditionally been a major player in the formation of international standards and many key standards, such as ISO 9001 for Quality Management, were originally developed as British Standards. However, this status and security is now threatened.

With trade negotiations with the United States underway, there is an overriding concern among standards experts that the US will push for a similar approach to standards that was agreed with Mexico and Canada in their respective deals, paving the way for US standards to replace our British Standards in underpinning regulation.

While the US works with us to develop international standards in ISO and IEC, they do not systematically adopt these standards, instead following a model where individual standards developers serve the needs of their individual constituencies, without seeking a national consensus.

Our model is to develop one standard to be used everywhere. As Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, said back in 2018, “Manufacturers want to make one product for multiple markets based on one standard, one test, rather than products for individual markets based on multiple standards and tests.”

If this proves to be the case, then it would significantly undermine our autonomous control over regulation.

These US standards are developed with no systematic input from British consumers or businesses. Such a model could allow American businesses to legally challenge the reference to a British Standard and request the listing instead of a US standard, including in areas critical to our manufacturing industry.

At BSI, we welcome the opportunities for the UK, especially manufacturers, that an ambitious trade deal would bring, and we urge the government to not barter away our autonomous control over existing regulations supported by standards.

Doing so could have severe consequences for the industries concerned, limiting their ability to enter new markets, making it much harder to comply with regulation and ultimately throwing doubt over their ability to keep their customers safe.

We would prefer to build on our existing positive relationships with the US, not to challenge our systems of standards or regulatory models.

We have a history of cooperation in developing standards with the US, for example BSI working with IEEE and other important international stakeholders to develop The Open Community for Ethics in Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.

Also, BSI, supported by Innovate UK, has led work with ASTM on additive manufacturing.

Continuing our relationship with the US on standards will enable cooperative working both in ISO and IEC and in developing standards together as a precursor to international work.

Emerging areas such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence could yield considerable benefits for both countries, ensuring that the UK and US set the benchmark for these breakthrough industries while supporting our businesses and consumers.

Government can grasp this opportunity to further develop our international influence through a partnership with the US. We can support them through the influence of British Standards, leading to a brighter future for British manufacturers.

We must first get past the challenge to UK regulatory autonomy of the imposed legal recognition of US standards.