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Hi, all,

There is some interesting international law on this topic although it
should be noted that there have been no decisions so far by the World
Trade Organization's Appellate Body that have applied this law to
software standards. However, the applicability of the law to software
standards is generally agreed. Moreover, it should be understood that
the treaty is widely ignored; it's still a fairly young treaty as
these things go.

(Skip ahead to "DISCUSSION" if you'd like to forego reading the quoted law.)

Under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade [1] (ratified and
in force in the vast majority of nations), Article 2 provides in
relevant part:

"2.1        Members shall ensure that in respect of technical
regulations, products imported from the territory of any Member shall
be accorded treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like
products of national origin and to like products originating in any
other country.

"2.2        *Members shall ensure that technical regulations are not
prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of
creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.*  For this
purpose, technical regulations shall not be more trade-restrictive
than necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective, taking account of the
risks non-fulfilment would create.  Such legitimate objectives are,
inter alia:  national security requirements;  the prevention of
deceptive practices;  protection of human health or safety, animal or
plant life or health, or the environment.  In assessing such risks,
relevant elements of consideration are, inter alia:  available
scientific and technical information, related processing technology or
intended end-uses of products.

"2.3        Technical regulations shall not be maintained if the
circumstances or objectives giving rise to their adoption no longer
exist or if the changed circumstances or objectives can be addressed
in a *less trade-restrictive manner."*

Under Article 4:

"4.1        *Members* shall ensure that their central government
standardizing bodies accept and comply with the Code of Good Practice
for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards in Annex 3
to this Agreement (referred to in this Agreement as the “Code of Good
Practice”). They *shall take such reasonable measures as may be
available to them to ensure that* local government and
*non-governmental standardizing bodies within their territories,* as
well as regional standardizing bodies of which they or one or more
bodies within their territories are members, accept and *comply with
this Code of Good Practice.* In addition, Members shall not take
measures which have the effect of, directly or indirectly, requiring
or encouraging such standardizing bodies to act in a manner
inconsistent with the Code of Good Practice. *The obligations of
Members with respect to compliance of standardizing bodies with the
provisions of the Code of Good Practice shall apply irrespective of
whether or not a standardizing body has accepted the Code of Good

And in the Code of Good Practice itself:

"D.        In respect of standards, the standardizing body shall
accord treatment to products originating in the territory of any other
Member of the WTO no less favourable than that accorded to like
products of national origin and to like products originating in any
other country.

"E.        *The standardizing body shall ensure that standards are not
prepared, adopted or applied* with a view to, or *with the effect of*,
creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade."*


Bypassing a lot of explanation of reasons, I think it almost certain
that the WTO Appellate Body would find -- if asked to decide whether
the specification for a programming language is a standard --- that it
is a standard subject to the treaty.

The question would then devolve to whether a specification for a
programming language derived in part from a particular human language
constitutes an "unnecessary obstacle[] to international trade."  I'll
treat it as a given that dependence on the ASCII character set and
English language phrases creates obstacles to international trade for
nations whose predominant human written language is not English and/or
requires different character sets.

The "unnecessary" adjective in the "unnecessary obstacles to
international trade" phrase then becomes the key to unlocking the
legal puzzle, i.e., is the obstacle created by dependence on a
particular human language unavoidable , or in the language of the
treaty, is it the least "trade-restrictive manner" to fulfill the
programming language's raison d'être?

And that in turn boils down to the question of whether it is
technically possible to design the programming language such that the
particular human language dependency is unnecessary?

I'll leave that technical question for people wiser than me to answer;
but the above summarizes the surrounding legal framework.

Best regards,


[1] Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade,