Standards for Critical Raw Materials: Strategic standard setting in China, the EU and the Netherlands

December 9th 2020 - 15:26
Strategic Standard Setting for Critical Raw Materials

Setting standards is becoming increasingly important for securing critical raw materials and technologies – which in turn are essential for meeting climate and digital ambitions. Especially technical standards are of major strategic importance, as they offer a venue for fostering dependence. What can the Netherlands and EU do to mitigate risks caused by Chinese standardization activities?  

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In this report, Irina Patrahau, Hugo van Manen, Tycho de Feijter and Michel Rademaker, set out to assert if Chinese standard setting initiatives pose a threat to the Netherlands’ and EU’s national security. They do so by identifying the critical raw materials (CRMs) which are set to increase in relevance, analysing ways in which standards are established internationally, mapping types of standards and finally, suggesting actions that the Dutch government can undertake to mitigate unwanted effects.   

Over the decades, standardization has developed into an increasingly politicized policy tool. States and/or actors enjoying a quasi-monopoly seek to formulate standards in order to benefit from “first mover”-advantages in their products’ reach. This enables them to shape standards to their own liking.  

China has identified standard setting as a national priority and has deployed coordinated, long-term strategies such as Standards 2035 and Main Points 2020. China’s quasi-monopoly in the extraction of critical raw materials and the development of related technologies lead to domestically introduced standards to be de facto established internationally. Moreover, Beijing’s strategic, coordinated approach to standardization results in corporations and state agencies representing China in international organizations being incentivized by realizing Beijing’s strategic ambitions.  

Currently, Chinese influence within international standard setting organizations is significant, but not yet dominant. Generally speaking, EU countries have, as a whole, a strong representation in committees and organizations such as the ISO, IEC and ITU and enjoy a stronger presence in value-based initiatives.  

Dutch governmental institutions and policy makers should recognize standardization as a strategic instrument through the creation of a Dutch national standardization strategy. A long-term, coordinated approach is imperative in order to preserve Dutch international regulatory and innovative power. Furthermore, a coordinated European approach towards standard setting could assist in mitigating risks caused by Chinese international standardization activities.  

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Hugo van Manen holds a Master’s degree (MSc) in International Public Management and Policy from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Leiden University. Prior to joining HCSS, Hugo worked as a consultant at Ecorys, where he was involved in several EU-commissioned projects within the field of civil protection, including the International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation, DRIVER+, and DG ECHO’s peer review program.
Tycho de Feijter is a China-expert specialized in Chinese defence and the Chinese automotive sector. He studied law in Amsterdam and Beijing, graduating with a thesis on China’s accession to the WTO. After graduation, De Feijter moved to China and stayed for 15 years, extensively researching and traveling the country. He worked 11 years as a local expert for the Dutch Embassy in Beijing, first for the Economic & Commercial department, and then for the Defence Department.
Michel Rademaker is the deputy Director of HCSS. He has fifteen years of hands-on experience as an officer in The Royal Netherlands Army, where he held various military operational and staff posts and also served a term in former Yugoslavia. He has a masters degree obtained at the University of Tilburg. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Rademaker went on to work at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) as a project and program manager and senior policy advisor on security topics for ten years. Eg. as NATO RTO project leader, he and his team developed serious gaming assessment methods and conducted several assessments of security technologies, and worked on numerous strategic security topics.