Standards, Innovation and their Role in the Context of the World Trade Organization

Date period
4 December 2013

Implemented jointly by ICTSD and the World Economic Forum, the E15Initiative convenes world-class experts and institutions to generate strategic analysis and recommendations for government, business and civil society geared towards strengthening the global trade and investment system for sustainable development. The Expert Group on Innovation is co-convened with the Evian Group @IMD and IMD.

This think piece discusses the role of standards in the WTO context, including their impact on innovation. It argues that the WTO concept of standards as captured in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement was established in a pre-globalization and pre-digital era and does not take into account the open standards that have been developed by globally open communities outside the traditional nation-centric system. The development and evolution of technologies on which the Internet is based exemplifies the success of this bottom-up, globally open, market-driven system of standardization. There is a need, therefore, for the WTO to update its concepts and definitions of standards, and the underlying processes, to the 21st century reality so as to encompass more inclusiveness and openness in an era of global challenges that require increased innovation. This can be realized through an explicit acknowledgement of the value of the standards-setting and developing bodies that follow a globally open, market-driven paradigm.