International standards organizations

Broadly, an international standards organization develops international standards. (This does not necessarily restrict the use of other published standards internationally.)

There are many international standards organizations. For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have existed for more than 50 years (founded in 1947, 1906, and 1865, respectively) and they are all based in Geneva, Switzerland. They have established tens of thousands of standards covering almost every conceivable topic. Many of these are then adopted worldwide replacing various incompatible 'homegrown' standards. Many of these standards are naturally evolved from those designed in-house within an industry, or by a particular country, while others have been built from scratch by groups of experts who sit on various technical committees (TCs).

ISO is composed of the national standards bodies (NSBs), one per member economy. The IEC is composed of national committees, one per member economy. In some cases, the national committee to the IEC of an economy may be the ISO member from that country or economy. The World Standards Cooperation (WSC) is a cooperative effort between ISO, the IEC, and the ITU.

ISO and IEC are non-treaty international organizations. Their members may be non-governmental organizations or governmental agencies. The ITU and Codex Alimentarius are two examples of treaty-based organizations (where only governments are the primary members). The members of these organizations are the government foreign ministry, and/or appropriate regulatory body (telecoms regulator, agricultural, food safety or pharmaceuticals regulator, etc).

In addition to these, independent standards organizations such as ASTM International develop and publish technical standards for international use. Others set standards within some more specialized context, such as SAE International, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), TAPPI, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), IEEE, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) or the American Petroleum Institute (API). Often, these international standards organizations are not based on the principle of one member per country. Rather, membership in such international organizations is open, having either organizational/corporate or individual technical expert members from around the globe.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), by means of its standards board, defines, approves, and maintains postal standards. The SB’s objectives are to provide strategic direction and to plan, develop and maintain technical and communications standards aimed at improving postal operational efficiency and quality of service, besides promoting interoperability and compatibility of all UPU and international postal telematics initiatives.


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