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Global Relevance of ISO Standards in the Pulp and Paper Industry

In order to maintain its status as the world's largest exporter of pulp and paper products, Canada must strive to compete effectively in global markets and to eliminate potential barriers to trade. Pr...


March 1, 2007
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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In order to maintain its status as the world’s largest exporter of pulp and paper products, Canada must strive to compete effectively in global markets and to eliminate potential barriers to trade. Products are sold on the basis of their performance and appearance attributes which are largely specified through ISO or National Standards. Papermakers must comply with these Standards to meet their customers’ requirements. Far too often, foreign countries attempt to introduce new ISO Standards or specifications which favour the product mix of their industry, but can be damaging to Canadian products or inhibit their access to certain markets. Therefore, Canada’s active participation in the development of ISO Standards is critical to protecting the interests of its pulp and paper industry. The recently-introduced guidelines by the World Trade Organization for Globally Relevant Standards are helping the Canadian pulp and paper industry achieve this objective, as demonstrated by several examples in this article.

Why do we need standards in the pulp and paper industry?

Essentially, all of the steps involved in papermaking, from wood chip supply, to pulping, refining, bleaching, and sheet consolidation rely on the measurements of wood, fibre, pulp, and paper properties to control each part of the process. In addition, all pulp and paper products are assessed on the basis of their mechanical, surface, absorption, or optical properties. In fact, most of the contentious issues regarding the sale of these products deal with their performance and appearance attributes.

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Accurate and consistent measurements of relevant properties are therefore essential for process control and product quality, and for meeting customer requirements. In addition, effective use of on-line sensors for controlling these parameters relies on the use of off-line standard methods for calibration. Equally important is to ensure harmonization of testing practices between countries. For example, if a particular paper thickness is specified by a customer in China, it is imperative that the caliper, as determined by the papermaker in Canada, is identical to that measured by the customer. Such harmonization of test methods is especially important considering Canada’s global position in the forest products industry. Whereas a large domestic market like the U.S. or European Union can base much of their commerce on local standards like TAPPI or CEN, producers in a major exporting country like Canada particularly benefit from the international uniformity of ISO standards.

Canada’s global position in the forest products industry

As indicated in Figure 1, Canada is the world’s leading exporter of pulp and paper products. It has a 50% share of the world trade for newsprint and softwood lumber, and 25% for market pulp. Canada’s forest industry also accounts for 10% of Canada’s manufacturing dollar value and is the largest contributor to Canada’s trade balance. In terms of its customer base (Figure 2), less than 20% of Canada’s pulp, paper and paperboard destinations is local, about 50% is in the U.S., and over 30% is to overseas countries, with Asian markets making up 16% and growing rapidly.

Canada’s participation in the development of ISO Standards

Not surprisingly, at the moment the most commonly used standards by Canada’s pulp and paper producers are those of PAPTAC and TAPPI, since nearly 70% of Canada’s markets are in Canada and the U.S. However, as Canadian markets continue to expand into Asian and developing countries, increased demand is expected from pulp and paper manufacturers to comply with international technical standards when testing pulp and paper products. Quite naturally, countries should be vigilant to make sure that measurement standards perform optimally for the production mix of their own market.

As a major exporter, it is in Canada’s interest to keep the system as open and fair as possible to all products, while maintaining particular vigilance against any stipulations that may competitively disadvantage its exports. Unfortunately, far too often, foreign countries attempt to introduce new ISO Standards or specifications which favour their industry, but can be damaging to Canadian or North American products and prevent their access to certain markets. Canada’s participation in the development of ISO Standards is therefore especially critical to ensure that new or revised standards do not discriminate against Canadian products or specifications, and therefore are not detrimental to foreign exports.

Technical Committee 6 of the International Standardization Organization (ISO/TC6) is responsible for developing ISO Standards for the paper, board, and pulp industry. It was established in 1947 and is one of the oldest active technical committees within ISO. At the present time, there are about 165 ISO/TC6 Standards covering various aspects of pulp and paper testing. About 20 working groups within TC6, represented by 17 countries, are currently involved in the development or revision of close to 60 ISO Standards. Canada is represented on all working groups through the participation of experts from the Canadian Advisory Committee (CAC) to ISO/TC6. The CAC is responsible for representing and defending Canada’s position on all ISO/TC6 matters. It ensures that ISO Standards are scientifically and technically sound, and that they are globally relevant according to the guidelines introduced by the World Trade Organization (WTO), as described in the next section. At the November 2006 ISO/TC6 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, the Canadian delegation included six representatives who participated as working group experts or convenors (Figure 3).

WTO’s guidelines for Globally Relevant Standards

In response to concerns from several countries, including Canada, regarding potentially damaging standards that could impede international trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) recently introduced a set of guidelines to avoid discrimination against certain products or specifications. According to these guidelines, a Globally Relevant Standard should:

* Effectively respond to regulatory and market needs (in the global marketplace)

* Respond to scientific and technical developments in various countries

* Not distort the market

* Have no adverse effects on fair competition

* Not stifle innovation and technological development

* Not give preference to characteristics or requirements of specific countries or regions when different needs or interests exist in other countries or regions

* Be performance-based as opposed to design-descriptive.

Canada’s role in ensuring the global relevance of ISO Standards

With the adoption of these WTO guidelines, Canada can play a much more effective role in the development of ISO Standards, while protecting the interests of its pulp and paper industry. Specific examples are presented below to illustrate Canada’s involvement in implementing each of these guidelines for the benefit of the pulp and paper industry.

A globally relevant standard should effectively respond to regulatory and market needs

Example: Colour with D50 illumination

This has been a long-standing problem, particularly for newsprint and magazine insert manufacturers. Papermakers generally use an indoor type “C” illuminant, whereas the printers use a “D50” illuminant, as specified by the printing and graphic arts community. The paper appears different under the two types of illuminant, a phenomenon known as “metamerism”, and a match is often done by trial and error or with the use of painted cards and a colour booth that uses D50 illumination. To address this issue, Canada introduced a new D50 colour Standard that will allow papermakers’ to comply more readily with their customers’ specifications. The soon to be released St
andard will be of particular relevance for newsprint shade matching, particularly for furnishes containing virgin fibres, since the difference between the two illuminants is considerably more pronounced than with recycled fibre furnishes.

A globally relevant standard should respond to scientific and technical developments

Example: Fracture toughness of paper

This is a fundamental property of paper, which measures the sheet’s ability to resist propagation of a pre-existing flaw or crack in the paper. It is closely related to the runnability of paper in the pressroom. There are two different approaches for measuring this parameter, including one based on the so-called “J-integral” and another on the “Essential Work of Fracture (EWF)”. The two approaches have been shown to yield different results depending on the type of paper, whether it’s brittle like newsprint, or tough and ductile, as in the case of well-beaten kraft. Several European countries were advocating a single approach for conducting the test, as a basis of a new ISO Standard. However, Canada demonstrated that the method was not applicable to all types of samples, and therefore may not be a good predictor of web breaks in the pressroom. Accordingly, it could underestimate the performance of certain types of paper products. As a result of arguments presented by Canada and other countries, the proposed method will likely be issued as a Technical Specification and will not be used as a means of ranking various types of paper.

Example: Discrepancies in optical measurements

This example goes back several years; however it has such a significant impact that it is worth mentioning here. A discrepancy in brightness calibration on the order of 2/3 of a point gradually developed between Europe and North America that could have caused as much as $1 billion annually in excess bleaching. After much technical verification, switching to the Canadian scale eliminated the excess bleaching, and safeguards were instituted to maintain global uniformity.

A more recent example deals with optical measurements of fluorescent paper. At the November ISO/TC6 meeting, Canada presented evidence to show that the UVb component, which represents a significant portion of illumination in several types of reflectometers, needs to be excluded in order to ensure the accuracy of fluorescence calibration, and consequently that brightness, whiteness, and colour measurements of fluorescent papers are reliable. As a result of this finding, the current ISO reflectance Standard (ISO 2469) will be modified to require that reflectometers used for the colourimetry of fluorescent papers illuminate those papers only with light having wavelengths greater than 300 nm in order to exclude its UVb component. This change will also ensure that papermakers can comply with their customers’ specifications.

A globally relevant standard should not distort the market

Example: Residual ink in recycled paper

The ERIC (Effective Residual Ink Concentration) method for measuring the effectiveness of a deinking process, was originally developed by Canada, and is now being issued as an ISO Standard. The method involves the measurement of residual ink at 950 nm. However, one of the European countries recently proposed the use of 700 nm as an alternative wavelength. Canada opposed this proposal on the basis that at 700 nm, the presence of dyes can interfere with the measurements and produce erroneous results. In particular, it could distort the measured level of residual ink. The European proposal was rejected and a new 950 nm filter will be incorporated into reflectometers sold in Europe, thereby ensuring harmonization of North American and European practices for evaluating the deinking efficiency of recycled paper.

A globally relevant standard should have no adverse effect on fair competition

Example: Optical properties with indoor vs. outdoor illumination

Several European countries were proposing the adoption of a new ISO Standard for measuring optical properties, based on the use of a “D65” outdoor illuminant. Canada disapproved this proposal on the basis that it is a poor match of end-use performance, due to the high UV content of this illuminant. The concern was that D65 specifications could be used by paper manufacturers to gain an unfair market advantage. This would particularly be the case for those using high levels of fluorescent brightening agents which would in turn boost the brightness and whiteness of paper when viewed under outdoor lighting conditions. In spite of the fact that there were only three votes against this proposal, the scientific evidence presented was so compelling as to convince the ISO committee to modify the proposed method to state that D65 illumination should only be used for process control and not for setting specifications for trade purposes.

A globally relevant standard should not stifle innovation and technological developments

Example: Accelerated ageing

Canada presented convincing evidence to refute a proposed ASTM protocol for accelerated ageing of paper. Canada showed that the light intensity required to simulate natural ageing needs to be two orders of magnitude lower than that proposed by ASTM, which was based on Xenon-arc exposure. The ASTM protocol would thus underestimate the light stability of papers containing mechanical pulps, particularly those treated with yellowing inhibitors. An alternate method that better simulates natural ageing was developed by Canada and approved by the ISO working group. The outcome will be a new ISO Standard that will help protect Canada’s mechanical pulp and BCTMP markets, and promote their use in products requiring light stability.

A globally relevant standard should not give preference to characteristics or requirements of specific countries

Example: Paper Sizes

For some time, there has been strong resistance from European countries to recognize North American paper sizes in ISO Standards. However, overwhelming evidence showed that the North American market accounted for a significant share of paper sold internationally. After much debate, reference will be made in the ISO Standard to ASTM specifications on North American paper sizes.

Example: Thickness, density, and specific volume

The proposed revision of the ISO Standard for measuring these parameters eliminated the alternate micrometer pressure of 50 kPa, which is widely used in North America. Canada rejected this proposal and a new working group was reconstituted to review the Standard. As a result, Canada’s recommendations to reinstate the 50 kPa as an alternate pressure were approved. This will ensure that Canada can conform with ISO specifications for measuring paper thickness. It was recommended, however, by the working group that a single pressure be specified in future revisions of this method, to allow a fair comparison of paper produced by various countries and to avoid potential disagreement between papermakers and their customers.

A globally relevant standard should be performance-based as opposed to design-prescriptive

Example: Paper permanence

The issue of paper permanence is a long-standing one. The current ISO Standard (ISO 9706) limits the definition of “permanent paper” to that with a kappa number less than five, which essentially excludes all wood-containing papers or those with a lignin content over 1%. However, extensive separate studies conducted under the sponsorship of ASTM and the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) showed that, whereas optical permanence of paper is impaired by lignin content, its mechanical permanence is not, provided that there is a sufficient level of alkali reserve in the paper. Accordingly, Canada has proposed that a new two-part ISO Standard be developed to differentiate between papers requiring mechanical permanence and those requiring mechanical and optical permanence. This Standard would be based on a corresponding National Standard of Canada on “Permanence of Paper for Records,
Books and Other Documents,” issued in 2000. If approved, this Standard will recognize that permanence requirements depend on the type of paper and its end-use application. It will permit the use of lignin-containing papers, such as those made from BCTMP pulp, in products requiring mechanical permanence, and allow Canadian BCTMP producers to expand their markets to include these products.

Conclusions and recommendations

This article has attempted to demonstrate, with a number of examples, the important role that Canada is playing in the development of ISO Standards for the pulp and paper industry. The recent introduction by the World Trade Organization (WTO) of guidelines for global relevance has been especially valuable and timely, as Canadian markets continue to expand into Asian and developing countries. Continuous active participation by Canada in the development of ISO Standards is therefore critical to ensure that new or revised standards are scientifically and technically sound, that they do not discriminate against Canadian products or specifications, and consequently that they are not detrimental to foreign exports. The goal is to maintain and strengthen Canada’s status as the world’s leading exporter of pulp and paper products.

Maurice Douek is the manager of the Analytical Services and Standards Program at Paprican, and currently serves as Chair of the Canadian Advisory Committee (CAC) to ISO/TC6