Challenging ISO TSP 271

In May, EILA alerted us to a proposal for a new field of technical activity submitted by the Chinese delegation to the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) calling for a new committee to set out international standards for the manufacture of musical instruments and proposing that China should undertake the secretariat for the new committee. As the document was removed shortly after the proposal date in May 2018 I have re-published it here:

Click her to download the full application for ISO TSP 271

The proposal covered all kinds of musical instruments, from violins and guitars, through to Chinese traditional instruments, and to electronic keyboards. It is difficult to understand what the Chinese Standards Authority aimed to achieve from this, other than the rather worrying claim that “This situation [the lack of regulation] does not match the vigorous development of musical instruments. Therefore, in order to restrict and standardize the manufacture and processing, ensure product quality and promote the healthy development of the industry, it is of urgent need to establish a global standard system for musical instruments.”

Please consider joining the British Violin Making Association if you are a maker of musical instruments or if you are simply interested in the craft. Your membership helps support us and enables us to respond when threats of this nature appear. Despite our name, we have members from across the world.

The threat of an ISO standard applied to the manufacture of stringed instruments is obviously something that we should be wary of, especially where it impinges on the craft of violin making, and also where it could affect the ranges of student instruments manufactured across the world. In their application the Chinese Standards Authority cited a total of 170 documents relating to national standards for musical instrument manufacture, of which 110 were from the Chinese Standards Authority itself.

It is perhaps worth noting that of the further 60 used to substantiate their case, they range from fabulously archaic documents such as GOST15146-1969, a Soviet Union standard for Thermal-treated steel tape for musical instrument reeds, to the outright bizarre – the Hungarian MNOSZ 15598-1953 regulation for the water level gauge of a waterpowered music box, which seems completely spurious in setting out a case for 21st century standards.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian standard SNI12-6119-1999 provides regional specifications for cello sizes, and there are eight Romanian documents dictating the standard requirements for violin and bow making dated between 1974 and 1987.

However, it seems highly likely that the proposal was intended in order to assert control on the trade in timber, as the application leans heavily towards liaison with ISO committees on Wood-based panel, Timber structures and Timber, and calls for partnership with the International Tropical Timber Organization. If this is the case, there would be reasons for grave concern about potential regulation interfering with the supply of tonewood. It is easy to see how this would create unintended pressure on traditional wood sources, and have the potential to put pressure on existing concerns about ebony, spruce and maple that have been expressed within the realms of CITES.

Whilst we are unsure of the precise motivations or implications of the proposed ISO/TS/P271, it is unwarranted interference upon our field which could have serious unintended implications. The EILA has directed international involvement of its members with their regional standards authorities, including in this country. Here in Britain, as chairman of the BVMA, I also submitted an opinion against the proposal to the Government-run British Standards Institute, our agency answering to the ISO, and the Musical Industries Association also put forward a much broader objection to the proposed committee. I have been informed by BSI that the United Kingdom voted against the proposal, partly on the strength of views expressed by parties in the musical instrument world, and as a result the proposal failed at the ISO.


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