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    Quality and Standards


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2010

    In this issue of International Trade Forum, we address the need for exporters from developing countries to conform to international standards as a prerequisite for entering new markets - whether they be in the North or the South. ITC believes this is a fundamentally important part of export competiveness and, for this reason, we invest in capacity building for small and medium-sized enterprises in this area.

    With the globalization of production and supply chains, complying with international standards is vital. Export businesses must develop the capability to conform to requirements in terms of quality, safety, health and the environment if they are to participate successfully in global markets.

    The gradual reduction of tariff barriers to facilitate trade has been accompanied by an increase in non-tariff barriers consisting of technical regulations and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, imposed by governments to protect the health and safety of their citizens and the environment.

    In addition, the proliferation of voluntary and private standards dealing with environmental and social issues, established by national, regional and international standards setting bodies, as well as retailers and consortiums, has also resulted in complex challenges for exporters. Environmental and social concerns have led to standards for carbon footprints and environmental management systems, social accountability, labour standards, food safety and specific sectoral requirements.

    The rise of the 'conscious consumer' in developed markets and the corresponding demand for ethically produced, eco, 'green' and organic goods has also seen a parallel increase in the demand from consumers for products to comply with voluntary standards and prove conformity through certification marks.

    Exporters need support from their national quality infrastructure to meet increasingly stringent and constantly changing mandatory and voluntary technical requirements. Unfortunately, the quality infrastructure in many developing countries is often inadequate and does not meet exporter's needs. Despite this, exporters are often reluctant to work with foreign service providers due to high costs and administrative difficulties.

    Setting up quality infrastructure is complex, expensive and time-consuming, but it is a crucial element of export competitiveness. As establishing such infrastructure requires a lot of investment, consideration could be given to regional approaches. It is also vitally important to engage the private sector. A concerted public-private partnership can go a long way to establishing infrastructure of the required quality.

    Adopting a proactive approach to standards, through participating in and influencing the development of standards for products that are of national export interest, and taking the specific needs of exporters into account, would place them in a better position to meet the demands of international markets. It is imperative for developing countries not only to comply but also to assume the responsibility for being standard-makers for products of export interest.

    For countries yet to install the necessary quality infrastructure to help their exporters meet market requirements, the path to effective systems is well defined with the precedent of many good examples to follow and opportunities to influence standards. This highlights the need for information sharing and for benchmarking performance between countries.

    As many of the examples in this issue demonstrate, while there are many challenges to overcome in meeting international requirements, whether mandatory or voluntary, producers and exporters have a lot to gain. The benefits range from better access to global markets, to improved management and monitoring systems, increased productivity, improved farming and production processes, and better access to credit. But it is crucial that exporters and producers understand the opportunities and risks involved in complying with international standards.