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Recent international metric advances

Even though most of the world outside of the U.S. is already metric, here are some recent advances in what still remains non-metric internationally. Following are reprints of some articles from Metric Today and other sources.

These stories describe metric transitions that continue in places where metric is still not universal.


South Korea Phases Out Non-Metric Units

From the January-February 2007 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

Although South Korea adopted SI in 1961, many businesses, government agencies, and news media have continued using its traditional units, such as the li (for length), pyeong (area), and keun and don (weight). But not for long.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy announced that businesses that continue using traditional units will be subject to legal sanctions beginning in July 2007, according to a 22 October 2006 Korea Times report. "We cannot delay the adoption of the international standard of measurements as we aim to raise the gross domestic product per capita to $20,000," says the ministry, noting that it will reduce the time and cost spent translating units in international trade.

In addition, the move will prevent errors in using traditional units, which sometimes differ from region to region or item to item. "If there is a 1 percent error in measuring goods, that could cost consumers 2.7 trillion won [US$2.8 billion]."

As a 6 November 2006 article in The Hankyoreh observes, "In truth, the square meter is a unit much more easily grasped than the pyeong. For instance, an apartment advertised as being 100 square meters (10 m by 10 m) is easier to imagine than one described as being 30 pyeong. Similarly, Yeoido, with an area of 2.6 million pyeong, is much easier to picture when described as being 8.4 square kilometers (4 km by 2.1 km). When the state demesne is reported as being 6.9 billion pyeong, it's almost impossible to comprehend, but when described as 23,000 km2, or 230 km by 100 km, an area the length of which stretches from Seoul to Daejeon with a width of 100 km, then one can attain a general idea of the scale.

"In particular, when the unit of measurement differs based upon the type of article or area that is being measured, confusion results. For instance, a pyeong of land is 3.3 m2, but a pyeong of glass is 0.09 m2. As for one geun, it can correspond to 200 g of vegetables, 400 g of fruits, or 600 g of red pepper and meat. One majigi of land is 495 m2 in Gyeonggi Province, 660 m2 in Cheungcheong Province, and 990 m2 in Gangwon Province."

Restaurants and shops that promote goods in traditional units face a maximum fine of 500,000 won [US$530], while those producing or importing items measured in non-standard units face up to one year in prison or a 5 million won [US$5,300] fine. Those using or possessing equipment marked in non-standard units face the maximum penalties of up to two years in prison or a 7 million won [US$7,400] fine.

Metrication in Guyana

From the May-June 2007 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

Guyana, a country in northern South America (215,000 km2, pop. 770,000), officially went metric on 1 January 2002, following a metrication program launched on 5 June 1997. A Stabroek News article on 9 April 2006 covers the results so far, quoting the Guyana National Bureau of Standards' 2005 annual report:

"In the foregoing year it was observed that generally businesses are willing to change over to the use of the metric system, but the consumers are the driving force behind the use of the Imperial system. Hence in the new year a concerted effort must be made to target consumers with the metric message."

The Bureau created a National Metrication Committee, consisting of representatives from various government agencies, which visited ministries and businesses.

"These visits were significant in that they targeted senior management ... to solicit their support, determine training needs and the status of metrication in the organization, provide assistance for the implementation of metrication in the organization, review existing legislation, and come up with a workable plan of action for the implementation of metrication."

Results were mixed. "With respect to state agencies and government ministries, it was observed that not much work was done regarding the implementation of metrication and it was sometimes challenging to meet senior functionaries who were in a position to effect changes to existing practices. Intensive training needs to be done to address these needs in the coming year."

But, "on the other hand, media houses and advertising agencies have given heartening support in the past year. However, there is still room for improvement, especially in the area of advertising in the electronic media, as media houses complained that their clients requested advertisements to be done in Imperial units.

"The local manufacturing businesses must be commended for the level of implementation. Because they have adopted the practice of pre-packaging, they are able to sell their goods in metric. Also, because their overseas buyers request goods in metric sizes and quantities they are forced to satisfy these orders."

UAE Continues Its Metric Transition

From the November-December 2009 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

The United Arab Emirates is continuing its move toward metric measurements, as well as other international standards, according to a 30 August 2009 report from Emirates Business 24/7. The Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA,, established in 2001 but active only during the last four years, defines standards for the UAE. So far it has adopted more than 5,000 standards, most from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

One imminent measurement-related change is the sale of gasoline: Service stations are in the process of switching from Imperial gallons to liters. "Unification is agreed and implementation of that has already been started, and hopefully by the end of this year and beginning of next year, we will have lots of pump areas changed to liters. In January 2010, they must be all changed to liters," according to Mohamed Badri, Deputy Director-General of ESMA.

Another topic is land area, where, for example, Abu Dhabi uses metric measurements while Dubai is non-metric. Even more confusing, it's common to use square feet for land areas but square meters for floor space. Although ESMA will mandate metric units, the organization has only limited authority over each emirate's land or real estate body: "It is the role of ESMA to issue standards but the more specifics—such as industry practices—needs to be determined at the local government or municipal levels."

And, of course, metrication alone doesn't solve the problem. For example, asks Alan England, Director, Mena region at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, "How did the person who provided the original area quoted in the title document measure the size of the unit? Did they measure to the inside, middle, or outside of a shared or external brick wall? All or some part of the balcony? And did they include or exclude the air space in a unit with the upper floor set back in the entrance lobby?" Such measurements have yet to be standardized.

UAE Real Estate Sector Going Metric

From the November-December 2010 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

The United Arab Emirates has announced the next stage of its metrication process. Previously, its service stations had switched from Imperial gallons to liters for gasoline sales as of 1 January 2010 (see the Nov-Dec 2009 Metric Today).

According to Mohammed Saleh Badri, acting director of the Emirates Authority for Standardization & Metrology (ESMA), "The next sector to start the shift will be land and plots. We held initial discussions with the land department and other government agencies to set up this unified transition. Other areas will shortly follow." The changes have been prompted by a UAE Cabinet decision in 2006 to standardize on SI.

According to John Morgan, the director of P&T Architects and Engineers in Dubai, the construction industry is already mostly metric, and "The government's decision to switch to the metric system is one we strongly support. The constant conversion can be time-consuming."

Property sales are not metric, but a real estate manager says the switch "makes the relationship between architects and ourselves easier, as we can take information directly from the plan."

ESMA will launch a media campaign later this year to educate consumers on how they will be affected.

Caribbean Countries Respond to EU Metric Directive

From the May-June 2005 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

Recent announcements by an emerging Caribbean economic community suggest that a number of countries in the western hemisphere are already preparing for the European Union’s 2010 metric challenge.

Saint Lucia, independent from British rule since 1979, has decided to break away completely from British measurements as well, and expand the use of SI into all sectors of its society. The Caribbean Net News, in a March 2005 article, reported that the Saint Lucia Metrology Act of 2005 has empowered the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards (SLBS) and a “Metrification Board” to make the island nation’s measurement system exclusively metric.

Dr. Alison Plummer, SLBS Director, stated in the article that her country’s metric transition was to be “ . . . a critical part of enabling the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, so that we all use the same units to trade, [and that] we all speak the same language to trade.” Plummer went on to note that the island’s business sector, particularly the petroleum industry, has been a strong supporter of metrication. With regard to the public sector, she said that the Land Registry and the Customs Department were already using the metric system. Plummer also announced that a broad public education program will be launched to alert all Saint Lucians to the coming expansion of metric-system use.

Full metrication is intended to align Saint Lucia more closely with the 14 other member countries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), an organization analogous to the European Common Market. CARICOM seeks to achieve economic integration through market forces, and promote intra-regional trade.

An article in The Jamaica Observer, Internet Edition, quoted Camella Rhone, spokesperson for a Caribbean inter-governmental agency, as stating, “If the region is to be serious about using the single market to facilitate trade, the international system of measurement has to be declared as the official language of measurement in trade.” Rhone noted that metrication in the CARICOM countries began with Trinidad’s changeover 25 years ago, and that the other countries in the community have gradually followed suit. Also in the Observer article, Dr. Plummer of Saint Lucia suggests that CARICOM metrication is consistent with the European Union’s (EU) Units of Measurement Directive, which, by 2010, will require trade in metric units exclusively.

Last February, Antigua and Barbuda, another CARICOM member state, announced a draft action plan to pass legislation that would set a metrication deadline, appoint a conversion board, and launch a public education campaign on the changeover. Dianne Lalla-Rodrigues, Bureau of Standards Director, joined her Saint Lucia counterpart in citing the EU’s Units of Measurement Directive as one of the reasons for her country’s push to metricate.

The announcements from these Caribbean nations reveal that the traditional list of the world’s remaining pre-metric countries (the U.S., Myanmar, and Liberia) has not accounted for those nations that have quietly continued the partial use of traditional measurement units. Brunei, a small Pacific Ocean country, has also started metrication efforts.

ED NOTE: Dr. Plummer also stated that metrication was intended to unite Saint Lucia with “. . . the rest of . . . the developed world.” Members of Congress who might have read her statement ought to feel that the U.S. is being left out, and should seek to follow her advice.

St. Lucia’s Consolidated Foods Goes Metric

From the November-December 2010 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

Consolidated Foods Limited is the first company in St. Lucia’s retail, wholesale, and distribution businesses to go metric, according to a report in the St. Lucia Star. (St. Lucia is an island nation in the eastern Caribbean Sea.) As of 7 February 2010, the company’s Super J and Mega J markets, as well as its warehouses, switched to metric measurements, well ahead of the June 2010 deadline set by the government for conversion.

The company began the process last year with help from St. Lucia’s Metrication Secretariat and the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards. According to the Star, “The process was a very challenging one. It meant converting all measuring instruments, checkout lanes, and the company’s extensive databases of products to metric. Such an undertaking took the collaborative effort of an internal team comprising members of various departments diligently working over the last few months.

“Joanna Justin, head of CFL’s IT and Business Systems Department, says the most notable change for the customer is with the perishable and weighed items, such as local produce, which are now labeled in price per gram or kilogram rather than price per pound. It is this area, she says, that presents a bit of a challenge for customers.”

Charts, flyers, and posters are intended to help customers understand the changes. And according to the company, “It is important for our customers to understand that there have been no price increases as a result of the conversion to metric, just a change in the system of measurement used.

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Updated: 2012-06-17