Setting the Standard

The global standardisation is the reason why the humble shipping container has done so much to stimulate international trade. Image: DP World, Port Botany. Photo by Sarah Keayes/The Photo Pitch.

The global standardisation is the reason why the humble shipping container has done so much to stimulate international trade. Image: DP World, Port Botany. Photo by Sarah Keayes/The Photo Pitch.

An economy of standards

Imagine that you are a shipper—a company with freight to ship. You’ve won an order to export four hundred ceiling fans to Senegal. You pack each fan into a paperboard carton, load the cartons into a shipping container, and send the container on its way. But when the vessel arrives in West Africa, there’s no way to lift your container off the ship. It seems the Australian container doesn’t fit with Senegalese cranes. The ship sails onward, and your fans remain on board.

Fortunately for the world economy, this story is a fantasy. If you’re a real shipper, you can be confident that the container holding your goods can fit aboard any ship, can be lifted by any crane, and can be transferred seamlessly to any truck or train anywhere in the world. Everything is standard—and standards are why the container has done so much to stimulate international trade.

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