There would be no argument regarding the fact that the future of national industries and companies depends on how much influence they give to international standards.
BusinessKorea sat down with Seo Kwang-hyun, administrator of the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) under the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, to hear about Korea’s competitiveness on the global stage as well as the role of the agency. What follows are some excerpts from the interview. During the face-to-face interview, administrator Seo also mentioned the contributions of standardization to people’s lives, including travel convenience due to the standardization of subway systems across the country and possibly across North Eastern region comprising Korea, China and Japan in the future.
Q: Korea’s recent effort for standardization is truly conspicuous, as evidenced by the fact that no less than 11 international conferences were held here during the past few months. What do you think is at the root of such an accomplishment?
A: Nowadays, the economic value of standards is increasingly recognized around the world following the emergence of the global common market. Furthermore, countries are striving more than ever to internationalize their own technological standards, with the WTO advising member nations to introduce new and revise existing technical regulations based on international standards.
Korea is engaged actively in such endeavors in cooperation with many nations. The hosting of international conferences is an outcome of such hard work. The Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) is fully committed to making sure Korea’s opinions are better heard in the international community.
Please explain the significance of the recent Pacific Area Standards Congress (PASC) meeting in Korea.
PASC is a regional meeting in which AP countries seek better ways to respond to Europe-centered international standardization and also discuss related policies with major international bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Participants exchange information and opinions on standards, technical regulations, conformity assessment and many other topics and thus foster intra-regional trade.
At the 35th PASC meeting held in Yeosu City in connection with the expo under the theme of Implementation of Environmental Sustainability Standards, we formulated cooperation for standardization in sectors such as new and renewable energy, environmental and human protection, and energy efficiency improvement. Korea presented its standardization policy and activities to boost the efficiency of electric vehicles, printed electronics and so forth, inducing tighter collaboration among PASC members.
During the PASC Meeting, Korea also held bilateral talks with countries including the US, Japan, and China in order to work more closely with them in the future. I believe that the meetings were a perfect opportunity to provide Korean organizations and enterprises with very useful information.
Q: What is the international standing of Korea in global standardization activities?
A: Since its accession to the two international bodies in 1963, Korea has been engaged in such activities on an ongoing basis. By the end of 2011, it had proposed a total of 450 international standards to ISO and IEC, 109 of which have been published as official standards. Last year alone, 114 people took the top positions, e.g. chairperson, secretary and convener, of technical committees and subcommittees at such organizations.
In addition, Korea is home to the IEC’s first-ever technical committee in the printed electronics sector, IEC TC/119, and has been its coordinator since its establishment in September 2011. We will continue to significantly contribute to the enhancement of the nation’s industrial and technological competitiveness through standardization activities in a variety of fields.
Q: Korea is aiming to become one of the seven standard powerhouses of the world by 2015. What is the government’s plan to make this happen?
A: We are feeling the necessity of a centralized governance framework for standard management. In this context, we will unify the Korea Standard (KS) and Korea Communications Standard (KCS) systems, while coming up with inter-ministerial plans that allow the governing authorities in each sector to develop and manage national standards on their own.
What is most important in the long-term is the business world’s creation of an ecosystem for international standardization. At present, Korea’s own technologies are adopted in 109 international standards, yet just 13 were proposed by the private sector. For Korean products to appeal better to global customers, an environment should be created in which enterprises can standardize the technologies they develop with greater ease. We will lend more support to this end, while assisting the commercialization, application and utilization of their international standards. We are also going to pay great attention to small and mid-size enterprises.
If we successfully increase the efficiency of standard management and make proposals that are viable and competitive enough, our goal to join the ranks of seven by 2015 will not be a distant one. However, it will be impossible without the commitment of the corporate sector. We are well aware that Samsung Electronics’ towering presence in today’s global mobile phone industry is founded on the government’s and industry’s CDMA standardization efforts 15 years ago.
Experts are pointing out not just administrative support but well-knit strategies are needed to turn government-invested technologies into international norms.
The government will invest 16 trillion won in R&D this year, but the budget earmarked for original standards development is no more than 30.5 billion won, 0.2% of the total sum. On the contrary, the figures are 0.7% and 0.5%, 1,038 billion and 258 billion won, in the US and Japan, respectively.
In view of this, the government has proceeded with an ambitious project since 1995 to improve its standard technological strength. A total of 201.1 billion won had been invested in this leading up until 2011, with 22.5 billion won scheduled to be spent on the project this year.
To draw better performance, we are focusing on three points: the strategic exploration of key standardization objectives; refinement of the investment structure; and introduction of a life-cycle task management system. We will spare no effort to standardize our technologies on a global-level through the establishment of tasks fully reflecting industrial and market demands.
Q: There should be stronger international cooperation to break down the TBT. What is the government doing in regards to this?
A: We are pursuing the mutual recognition of test reports and certificates, information exchange on compulsory certification, and industry-wide seminars, etc.
One of the examples of such reciprocal recognition is the agreement between KATS and Saudi Arabia Standards Organization (SASO) signed in September 2008. According to the agreement, Korean companies exporting to the Middle East nation are now able to ship their products after receiving required certificates or test reports from a Korean agency, rather than the far away SASO. In the meantime, Korean and Chinese regulating authorities have held annual meetings since 2003 in order to share their opinions and data on compulsory certification.
In the future, Korea will continue to pursue different policies to remove the TBT, such as concluding mutual recognition agreements with more countries. Furthermore, we will keep up with the latest overseas trends in regards to regulations and help enterprises get the information they need to cope with such restrictions in advance. TBT manuals will be made available and employees will be given the opportunity to learn about and how to tackle TBT more effectively.
The TBT has a crucial importance in all free trade deals. We are working hard to reflect Korean companies’ voices from the very early stage of TBT agreements. The KATS’ TBT Division will never be slow to furnish domestic enterprises with up-to-date information regarding overseas regulations and technical standards.