The Central Secretariat of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) has taken over responsibility of maintaining the International Standard for country codes and has developed Web pages on ISO Online to serve as a contact point for users.

Based on International Standard ISO 3166, Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions, ISO country codes are used in many applications worldwide in all branches of industry, trade and statistics. These codes are applied in all sorts of indexes and listings, as well for identifying goods and documents and employed by public administrations, businesses, libraries, and many other organizations in a multitude of sectors.

"Country codes form part of the universal encoded language by which organizations, business and institutions communicate with one another in order to simplify the exchange of goods or information in an ever more integrated world," notes Cord Wischhoefer, Secretary of the Maintenance agency for ISO 3166. "In all such operations, country names in abbreviated, or coded, form can save time, space, and energy and confusion - and, therefore, money too."

As the secretariat of the Maintenance agency for ISO 3166, ISO will manage the updating of the country codes and serve as a contact point for users, a task which up until recently has been carried out by the DIN, Deutsches Institut für Normung, ISO's member for Germany. ISO will provide users with helpful information on ISO 3166, along with up to date codes, and advice on the correct application of ISO 3166 - currently comprising codes for 239 country names.

Since it was first published in 1974, ISO 3166 has grown to encompass three separate documents, including two new parts on codes for subdivisions (states, regions, or provinces) and a listing of codes for countries that are no longer in use ("historical" codes).

According to Cord Wischhoefer, only the Maintenance agency can provide users with accurate information on the codes from all three parts of ISO 3166. "Users or potential users of ISO 3166 should always consult with ISO for dependable and up to date country codes. ISO and ISO alone is the prime source for reliable information on the country codes put to work in millions of operations worldwide that help benefit trade, commerce and the public at large.

"The ISO 3166 country codes have been adopted in many regional and national standards, including by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), and form part of numerous International Standards. We hope that the ubiquity of the ISO 3166 country codes on the Web and their global acceptance by business will continue to convince the widest possible range of users of the advantages to be gained from implementing this particular ISO standard," further notes Cord Wischhoefer.

ISO will closely follow international developments to keep its listings up to date and publish a newsletter, available from the Web pages, to publicize changes. Part of its undertaking will be to maintain an overview of existing code systems and to coordinate with the bodies running or using them, with a view to alignment.

For more information from the new secretariat of the ISO 3166 Maintenance agency, including a complete list of country names and code elements, please consult the pages published on our site.