Agreeably, all over the world, removal of non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs – technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment) remains a high target in trade liberalisation programmes, as the main challenges facing the international trading system, and Africa in particular remain the variation in Conformity Assessment activities practices, and standards used by different countries, resulting into the costly problem of discriminatory, non-transparent, and unnecessary obstacles to trade will persist. All the three issues (technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment) are relevant to the simple goal of one product, one test, accepted everywhere, a widely recognised target of trade liberalisation, and all three are covered by the TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) Agreement of the WTO (World Trade Organisation), although conformity assessment has so far received less attention in studies of trade effects.
Conformity assessment and standardization are separate but inter-linked activities within Quality Infrastructure architecture. Businessmen, consumers and public officials have certain expectations about the quality, safety, reliability, interoperability, efficiency, effectiveness and environmental sustainability of products and services and these are specified in a standard. Conformity assessment provides the means for testing the compliance of such products and services with these expectations, in accordance with relevant standards, regulations and other specifications. Conformity assessment depends on the existence of unambiguous standards against which products, processes, and services are assessed. It helps to ensure that products and services deliver on their promises as per the referenced standard. In other words, conformity assessment builds trust and makes standards relevant.
The National Academies Press, USA, (1995) sites the seven functions of product and process standards as: fostering commercial communication; diffusing technology; raising productive efficiency; enhancing market competition; ensuring physical and functional compatibility; improving process management; and enhancing public welfare. To succeed in these functions, standards must be well designed, based in sound technology, appropriate to the task at hand, and accepted as valid and useful by the population of users. A standard that meets these criteria, however, still fails to have the effect its developers intended if products designed to conform to it do not, in practice, conform. Conformity assessment is the comprehensive term for measures taken by manufacturers, their customers, regulatory authorities, and independent, third parties to assess conformity to standards. A functioning technical regulation system can benefit a domestic economy in terms of balancing regulatory and trade interests, reducing unintended effects, eliminating technical barriers to trade, providing critical market information, improving the quality and consistency of technical regulations and complying with international requirements. Consumers, regulatory bodies, producers, manufacturers, processors, importers and exporters all stand to benefit equally from an effective technical regulatory system. However, Technical regulations serve little purpose if the supporting conformity assessment system is weak or non-existent.
Importance of Conformity Assessment to African Countries:
- Reducing the risk that domestic market could easily be the dumping ground for sub-standard and unsafe products.
- Protection of the environment and achieve higher social responsibility and allowing the performance of consumer safety function (availability of testing facilities, particularly microbiology and chemical testing laboratories and legal metrology).
- Facilitating trade, access to export markets and generate hard currency
- Overcoming risk of rejection of products in export markets due to lack of conformity (TBS and SPS).
- Prevention of unscrupulous traders from taking advantage of a poor QI infrastructure for enforcing legal system for inspection, custom control,
- Integration of producers/traders in the global economy
- Enabling the private sector to solve quality, compliance and certification problems hampering its aspiration to gain access to export markets and avoid multiple testing.
As part of their quality infrastructure, all economies need access to credible conformity assessment services. These are needed for a variety of purposes, including: Demonstration that products, processes, services, commodities and personnel meet required specifications. These may include requirements specified under regulations (domestic or foreign), purchasers’ specifications, trade agreements etc; Establishing and monitoring appropriate requirements for protection of health, safety and the environment. The National Academies Press, USA, (1995). The importance of standards and conformity assessment in both domestic and international trade was prominently noted in the 1994 Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). The agreement recognises that harmonized standards and conformity assessment procedures can expedite or seriously hinder the free flow of goods in international commerce.
The World Trade Organization-Technical Barriers (WTO TBT) Agreement requires that conformity assessment procedures are prepared, adopted, and applied so as to grant access for suppliers of like products originating in the territories of other Members [signatories to the agreement] under conditions not less favourable than those accorded to suppliers of like products of national origin or originating in any other country. The Agreement also requires that such procedures are not to be prepared, adopted, or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to global trade. Ideally, a properly conducted conformity assessment program benefits the free flow of goods into the marketplace. (USAID 2014)
A growing body of theoretical, empirical and policy analysis, including the WTO’s 2005 World Trade Report, recognises that technical regulations, standards and procedures for determining conformity can have both positive and detrimental effects on competition and international trade. TBTs generally result from the preparation, adoption, and application of different technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures. An unnecessary obstacle to trade could result from stricter or more time-consuming procedures than are necessary to assess that a product complies with the domestic laws and regulations of the importing country. For instance, information requirements should be no greater than needed, and the setting of facilities to carry out conformity assessment, and the selection of samples should not create unnecessary inconvenience to the agents (WTO TBT Agreement Articles 5.2.3 and 5.2.6).
It is for this reason that ARSO is focusing on its Conformity Assessment Programme under the ARSO Conformity Assessment Committee (ARSO CACO). Established in 1977, ARSO was mandated among other functions, to Promote and coordinate standardisation and conformity assessment systems in Africa. The Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) for the Economic Development of Africa (1980 – 2000) (OAU, 1980) reiterated the scope of standardization and expanded the mandate of ARSO thus, ARSO to be entrusted with the task of establishing African regional standards for all products of interest to intra-African trade and that ARSO to operate a regional certification marking scheme with a view to certify the quality of and promoting African products. Within the decade 1980-1990, ARSO took a number of steps in order to realize this mandate, including developing the modality and methodology for the establishment and operation of a regional certification system, that is, the ARSO Certification System (ARSO-CERT) and the supporting documentation to operationalize the certification system which was approved by the ARSO Council in November 1990.
Moving forward, in order to effectively coordinate the activities of ARSO Conformity Assessment, in June 2013, the 48th ARSO Council approved the formation of ARSO Conformity Assessment Committee (ARSO CACO) with the overall mandate of the coordination and advising ARSO on policy and technical matters concerning the ARSO Conformity Assessment Programme, including among other things: assisting in establishing vocabulary and general and specific principles of conformity assessment; guides and technical specifications suitable for use in all aspects of conformity assessment; Permanent and operational documents for conformity assessment schemes; Rules for, and decide on, the admission of Certification Bodies and Testing Laboratories; Operating procedures and general matters linked with peer assessment; Operating procedures linked with factory inspections; Rules for the use of test facilities of Manufacturers’ Test Laboratories and Test Report Forms (TRFs). Membership of ARSO CACO consist of Experts from ARSO members and is expected to have a Chairperson and Secretariat established within the framework of ARSO African Standards Harmonisation Model (ASHAM) taking into account the special nature of its operation. It is on this basis that the ARSO CACO members drawn from 25 ARSO members (Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, DR. Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe) are currently on in Nairobi, Kenya for the a four day Launching meeting which started on 19th September 2016, courtesy of sponsorship from PTB Germany. Ms. Caroline Outa(speaking), KEBS, Kenya was elected the Chair.
Mr. Alex Inklaar, the PTB Consultant is the Key Resource Person in the Presentations and Discussions
See more photos:
For More Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/arso_gallery/albums/72157674185546645
- ARSO 2016 – Business Plan for the ARSO Conformity Assessment Committee
- OECD 2005, STANDARDS AND CONFORMITY ASSESSMENT IN TRADE: MINIMISING BARRIERS ANDMAXIMISING BENEFITS, Workshop and Policy Dialogue Berlin, 21 – 22 November 2005
- UNIDO 2006 – Establishment of conformity assessment schemes in developing countries
- USA, National Research Council. 1995 – Standards, Conformity Assessment, and Trade: Into the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1995. doi:10.17226/4921.
- USAID, 2014 – Standards, Metrology, Conformity Assessment and The TBT Agreement – a Desk To Reference Handbook