Standards Spur Growth in Latin America

ASTM International is partnering with numerous organizations in Latin America to disseminate a variety of product- and safety-related standards.
Jack Maxwell

What do oil refiners in Peru, concrete producers in Colombia, and adventure attraction operators in Costa Rica have in common? All, to varying degrees, look to ASTM International for help in identifying existing standards and developing new ones that will help them do business more safely and efficiently.

These countries have something else in common as well. They are part of Latin America — an area of 20 countries where ASTM is well-established, and where the organization is devoting increased attention as it continues to support and expand its global presence.

In some cases, ASTM and national standards bodies in several Latin American countries have worked together for decades. In others, ASTM has only recently begun offering training and other assistance to technical experts, trade associations, and local business owners. The goal is the same in both cases: Connect with key stakeholders to help create a more robust, more consistent standards ecosystem.

FOR YOU: ASTM's Latin American Road Show

Here’s a look at ASTM International’s Latin American activities, and how the organization ensures international trade while helping ensure that the highest standards of product safety and performance are met at the local level.

Establishing Relationships

Stretching from the bustling streets of Tijuana to the remote archipelagos of Patagonia, Latin America is massive in size and impressive in its geographic and cultural diversity. The majority of Latin Americans share Spanish as their language, but there are a few exceptions, most notably Brazil, the region’s largest country, where the primary language is Portuguese.

In August 2001, Colombia became the first country in Latin America to establish a formal relationship with ASTM International through the organization’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) program, which supports the use of ASTM standards in emerging economies and encourages local engagement in the global standards development process. Experts from countries with an MOU enjoy free membership in ASTM technical committees, access (via national standards bodies) to ASTM standards, and a number of other benefits.

Over the past 18 years, Colombia has been joined as a participant in the MOU program by all seven Central American countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) as well as several in South America (Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay).

“Colombia, Chile, and Peru are the top three in South America [in terms of activity],” says James Olshefsky, ASTM’s director of external relations, adding that Colombia has been the most active. “They were the first MOU that we signed, and since then they’ve reported over 2,200 citations of ASTM standards. We use this citation of standards as one way to gauge their activity.” Other countries with high totals of citations include Peru, an MOU partner since 2003, with 1,109 citations; Ecuador (2002) with 934 citations; and Costa Rica (2005) with 749 citations.

Removing Language Barriers

Imagine the potential difficulty a Spanish-speaking engineer could have interpreting the technical jargon in an English-language version of an ASTM standard like the test method for determining acidity levels in aviation turbine fuels (D3242). Now consider that there are no less than 35 additional test method standards just for liquid fuels and lubricants and close to a thousand more under the purview of ASTM’s committee on petroleum (D02) and its 120-plus subcommittees.

“ASTM test methods are fairly dense and complicated, with a lot of technical terminology,” says David de la Garza, ASTM energy sector manager. “In the petroleum industry, there are at least 10 to 20 methods per product that are critically important. At times, even native English speakers in the United States have difficulty following the procedures to the letter and the intent of the method. So imagine that for a non-native speaker.”

De la Garza further explains that the uncoordinated approach of the past, with users in different countries attempting their own translations, was problematic. “There were so many standards with informal translations incorporated into local standard operating procedures, not necessarily translated or interpreted correctly or consistently every time,” he says. Multiply this scenario by different offices in different countries within the same company, and then extrapolate to the other energy companies doing business in Latin America, and the process was, in de la Garza’s assessment, “very disjointed.”

One of his initial tasks when de la Garza joined ASTM in 2017 was to identify the first set of standards in the petroleum testing sphere to be translated, as a number of industry sectors rely on them, including laboratories, refineries, pipelines, product terminals, blending facilities, and shore tank operators. “We wanted to provide them with one consistent, officially translated version so that everyone could be working from the same document, just like it would be with an English-speaking company,” he says.

As of March 2019, ASTM had translated and published 150 petroleum-related standards in the Spanish Petroleum Collection, with 50 of them also available in Portuguese. “The plan for this year is to catch up with the Portuguese ‘Petroleum Collection to get it to 150. Our annual goal is 50 translations of each language,” says de la Garza.

Petroleum is hardly the only Latin American industry to benefit from translated standards. And it’s not the first. Olshefsky describes ASTM’s involvement in the efforts of the American Concrete Institute (ACI) to adapt its internationally recognized structural concrete building code for the region. “In 2005, when ACI translated their 318 code into Spanish for use in Latin America, ASTM began a process of translating all the references to ASTM standards, about 45 of them, into Spanish so they could be used as well. It’s been pretty successful in terms of the use of concrete standards,” he says.

Paulina Reyes of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) highlights the importance of having the 20-plus standards developed by ASTM’s committee on amusement rides and devices (F24) available in Spanish. “IAAPA has been proactive in the promotion of this committee in the region. And ASTM has fully supported us with guidance, information about the MOUs, and, most important, translation of the standards,” says Reyes.

This support has borne fruit, according to former ASTM board member Franceen Gonzales of WhiteWater, a Canadian firm that designs and manufactures amusement and waterpark rides and attractions. “Colombia was one of the first Latin American countries to utilize ASTM standards in their regulations. Since then many others have followed,” she says. “Bolivia was the first to take F24 standards and incorporate them into its national codes and has been focused on their use in regulation as the amusement park industry develops.”

The Importance of Being There

It is clear that outreach efforts such as recent “road shows” have been valuable. The road show to South America in 2016 reached over 600 people, and the event in Central America the following year reached close to 400 stakeholders. Local training sessions and a sustained, visible presence at area trade shows and other events have had an impact as well.

“We had our first aviation fuel training course with an instructor in Lima, Peru, last year,” notes de la Garza, referring to a class that has typically been offered in the United States and Canada – and always in English. “This was the first time we had an instructor in a Spanish-speaking country with real-time interpretation for those users who speak Spanish,” he says.

Lima is slated to be the site of ASTM International’s 2020 board meeting, another sign of the organization’s commitment to the region. “We will have one full day of outreach events with our board members,” Olshefsky explains. “We assign our board members to small groups and then go out to different companies and agenices to share information about ASTM and understand how they use ASTM products and services to meet their standards objectives.”

This past March, ASTM presented its first public course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a weeklong session hosted at Petrobras University, an arm of the government-owned energy consortium. Two days were devoted to motor gasoline, two days to No. 2 diesel, and one day to marine fuel, with interpretations and printed course material in Portuguese.

ASTM International also attends various Latin American industry events, with staff members doing presentations and at times providing assistance at an information booth. Maria Isabel Barrios is ASTM’s official Latin America representative and founder of EnginZone, a Peruvian company that provides standards training in a range of disciplines. Barrios says, “For example, every other year, ASTM participates in Reunión del Concreto, which is organized by ASOCRETO, the Colombian trade association for concrete producers. This year ASTM will also promote its fire safety standards at Expofuego 2019 in Peru.”

These local events are particularly valuable for individuals who can’t travel to the United States for training. De la Garza says the challenges of international travel can be sidestepped by providing training locally. “If we have these courses held within Latin America, you open up that whole new opportunity for people to attend ASTM training courses when it’s in their native language, and they’re easily able to access the location,” he says.

ASTM International committee members also visit specific countries where the need for standards is apparent. For instance, one of the F24 committee task groups recently went to Costa Rica — where ecotourism attractions include ziplines that whisk thrill-seekers through the jungle canopy — to promote the practice for aerial adventure courses (F2959), which covers their design, manufacture, installation, operation, maintenance, auditing, and modification.

“As a result of our involvement with the Costa Rican national standards body, they recently sent a standards expert to us to participate in an ongoing training program,” says Olshefsky.

Standards in Action

Metrics like the number of contacts made during a road show or how many times a standard is cited in a particular country are ways of measuring ASTM’s impact in Latin America. Another is to examine the practical effects of more widespread availability of standards, and how regular revisions that reflect new procedures and technologies can help local industries follow best practices.

Take construction materials, for example. “ASTM standards for cement and concrete have been used for decades in Colombia, Peru, and Chile,” says Barrios. “But there is new concrete technology now coming into the market which needs to be standardized in each of these countries. So the easiest thing for them is to adopt the ASTM standards, which are known to be the most reliable by the construction industry.”

The managing director of ASOCRETO and a former ASTM International board member, Manuel Lascarro, points out the value of collaboration between ASTM and local stakeholders. “The test methods used for self-consolidating concrete were developed with the participation of Latin American experts and can be adopted immediately thanks to the incorporation of local input,” he says.

In the realm of toys, adoption of the specification for toy safety (F963) is encouraged by key players in the industry to help keep children safe, and also as a way to gain access to new markets. Joan Lawrence of The Toy Association points to steps taken by several Latin American countries to consider international standards like F963, which, if accepted, would allow toys that comply to be imported.

Amusement parks have been impacted positively by the ever-expanding use of ASTM standards as well, with the aforementioned Bolivia and Colombia leading the way. 

However, factors such as a favorable economic climate and the relatively low initial capital investment required are fueling growth in this sector and, according to IAAPA’s Reyes, a concern is that some ride operators and manufacturers lack knowledge of industry safety standards.

WhiteWater’s Gonzales has seen this as well. “New investors that enter the market may not always have the background in our industry and need to be aware that there are safety standards,” she says. This can be exacerbated in countries without explicit regulations that direct them to meet those standards, but a good way to address this issue is through the connections between private industry and national standards bodies.

“If ASTM standards are widely used in a specific industry, then there is solid ground for the national standards body to adopt those standards as their national ones,” says EnginZone’s Barrios.

Cesar Constantino, Ph.D., director of business development for Separation Technologies, a Titan America Company, and former member of ASTM’s board of directors, believes that the symbiotic relationship between ASTM and groups like ASOCRETO could hold the key to more widespread use of the organization’s standards in Latin America. “It may be that a structure based on MOUs between private sector drivers and ASTM could accelerate the adoption of standards, because then the private sector can carry the initiatives and bring standards-related activities to the government bodies in charge of regulation,” says Constantino.

Business relationships like these are critical in extending the reach of ASTM International standards. And as the organization looks to its future in Latin America, the interpersonal relationships established by ASTM committee experts with both governmental bodies and corporate entities in Latin America will be just as important.

Jack Maxwell is a freelance writer based in Westmont, New Jersey.

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