A new ISO/IEC guide aims to reduce redundant, costly and time-consuming aspects of "conformity assessment" activities and, in doing so, contribute to the efficiency of the international trading system.

As goods and services flow across borders, business partners or government agencies may require verification that they measure up to standards, regulations and other requirements. This verification is known as "conformity assessment". One of the main difficulties exporters face is costly, multiple testing and/or certification of products, services, systems, processes and materials. These costs would be drastically reduced if a product could be tested once and the results accepted in all markets.

The new guide provides procedures for establishing and maintaining cooperation among the bodies that carry out conformity assessments and the "accreditation bodies" that verify their competence. This cooperation is formalized in what is known as a recognition arrangement (or acceptance arrangement) which will allow the contracting parties to recognize (or accept) the results of each other's inspections, testing, certification or accreditation for goods and services traded internationally.

These arrangements are expected to improve confidence of both private and public sector purchasers, and of regulators, that requirements applicable to products, services and systems have been met.

According to John Donaldson, convenor of the working group that developed ISO/IEC Guide 68, it is a useful introduction to the elements and procedures so far developed to establish cooperation among conformity assessment bodies.

"The concept of arrangements for the acceptance of conformity assessment results is complex. The new guide has attempted to simplify the concept for ease of understanding - at a general level. It will be used in tutorial situations for those unfamiliar with conformity assessment situations. Moreover, it should prove useful for educating trade policy analysts and others relatively new to the field of conformity assessment."

Arrangements for cooperation are intended to avoid the expense and inconvenience of multiple conformity assessments that goods and services may need to undergo, especially when they are traded across borders. They will also serve the market by helping to lower technical barriers to trade - which results in lower manufacturing costs - and to raise the level of confidence between buyers and sellers.

ISO/IEC Guide 68 was developed by the ISO Committee on conformity assessment (CASCO), working group WG 11, Mutual recognition agreements, in partnership with the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission).