Groups of Standards in China

According to the Chinese Standardization Law, Chinese standards are categorized into 4 different groups, namely: National Standards, Sector Standards, Provincial Standards and Enterprise Standards.

National Standards

National Standards (referred to as “GB”) are developed for technical requirements that need to be unified nationwide. They make up the core of relevant standardization and technical regulations in China. About 15% of GB are compulsory; compliance with these is a pre-condition for placing products and services on the Chinese market. In addition, and unlike in Europe, compliance with such standards is also required for the export of products and services from China. GB are being developed under the supervision of AQSIQ and require SAC approval.

The prefix of each standard indicates its mandatory or voluntary nature:

Code Meaning
GB Mandatory National Standard
GB/T Voluntary National Standard
GB/Z National Standardization Guiding Technical Document

Sector Standards

Sector Standards (often also referred to as “Industry Standards”) are developed when no National Standard exist, but unified technical requirements are nonetheless needed in a certain industrial sector throughout the country. They have similar functions to National Standards, but are usually related to a single ministry and as such not centrally controlled or supervised. Sector Standards can be either voluntary or compulsory. The law on standardization states that Sector Standards in conflict with National Standards shall be withdrawn. There is no rule however on how to handle conflicting Sector Standards, issued by different standardization bodies.

Provincial Standards

Provincial Standards (also called Local Standards) are developed when neither National Standards nor Sector Standards exist, but unified requirements for safety and hygiene of industrial products are needed within a certain local area. These standards can be understood in a similar way to “National Standards” in Europe, since they are applicable to only one single province. Provincial Standards are often used as a testing ground for future National and Sector Standards; successful Provincial Standards are thus regularly replaced by new National Standards. Provincial Standards should be withdrawn if they are not consistent with national regulations and/or applicable National and Sector Standards. Provincial Standards can be identified by either the “DB + provincial code” (mandatory) or the “DB + provincial code/T” (voluntary) prefix.

Enterprise Standards

Enterprise Standards are developed within an enterprise when relevant National Standards, Sector Standards and Provincial Standards do not exist. They can be considered a part of the quality control system of individual enterprises. As such, these standards are not usually public. Nevertheless, they often fulfill a legal requirement for companies operating in areas of high risk for employees or third parties. The code for these standards is Q + the Enterprise code.

To see a complete list of standards codes, please visit the SAC website:
http://www.sac.gov.cn/templet/english/ShowArticle.jsp?id=2780

Mandatory vs Voluntary Standards

Chinese standards are divided into mandatory and voluntary standards. Mandatory standards have the force of law like other technical regulations in China. They are enforced by laws and administrative regulations and are mainly related to the protection of human health, personal property and safety. They remain the key tools for ensuring the safety of products and services placed on the Chinese market and are treated accordingly. Standards that do not possess such characteristics are considered to be voluntary standards.

Mandatory standards in China are in some respects a cross-over between government regulations and industry support tools. Since the difference between these two functions lacks clear distinction, there is equally no clear rule that states when a government regulation has to be issued or when a mandatory standard will be sufficient.