The five Partner States of the East African Community (EAC) are currently involved in activities related to the conformity of products traded within the region. The process which includes the preparation, approval and adoption of the standards related to those products is undertaken by the different national standards bodies in each one of the partner states.
A common definition of a standard is a document approved by a recognized body that provides for common and repeated use rules, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, for which compliance may or may not be mandatory. Standards play an important role in regional integration.
“Standards are vital to integration,” says José Maciel, Director of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) and Standards at TradeMark East Africa (TMEA). “In addition to safeguarding the health and safety of the consumers and the environment, standards can cut the cost and time of doing business by huge amounts. In that sense, they are central to the future wealth of the EAC.”
All across the five-nation regional economic bloc, TMEA is helping national partners harmonize the standards of the most commonly traded goods in the region so that they can cross borders unimpeded by questions about their authenticity or reliability or origin. These include some of the most-traded goods in the EAC such as tea, coffee, iron, petroleum and edible fats and oils. TMEA is assisting the EAC national bureaus of standards, the private sector and the EAC Secretariat on two levels: national and regional.
At the national level, TMEA is supporting the Partner States with the provision of equipment and capacity building to the national bureaus of standards in order to assist them in carrying out their duties in an efficient and effective manner. For example, under a program funded
by TMEA, Rwanda’s Bureau of Standards has funded the purchase of the latest hi-tech equipment that will check Rwanda’s key coffee exports for micro-toxins as well as essential oils for their purity.
At the regional level, TMEA is supporting the EAC region with initiatives supporting standards harmonisation. How does the EAC region benefit from such initiatives? Regional harmonisation of standards means that the entire EAC region benefits from trade facilitation which derives from it, through lower cost and transit time for producers,
exporters, traders and the consumer market. Ultimately, regional harmonisation of standards benefits the poor in the EAC region as lowering the cost of products makes them more affordable. Regional harmonisation of standards increases may also lower the cost of production by not requiring different lines of products to conform with different standards required by different countries. In addition, regional harmonisation of standards may also increase the amount of trade within the EAC by making the cost of products more affordable and, therefore, encouraging greater consumption.
To date, 94 standards have been harmonized in the EAC, under the docket of eight EAC Technical Committees. Out of those standards, 41 were gazetted and formally declared as EAC standards. These included standards in vital sectors such as edible oils, fish and fish products, steel and steel products, among others. The 41 gazetted standards account for approximately US$ 289 million worth of products whose trade is facilitated at the regional level and which will not need to undergo additional scrutiny by multiple national bureaus of standards. 8% of the EAC trade basket has been positively influenced by this regional trade facilitation initiative. TMEA expects to finish the calendar year 2014 with 15 additional standards harmonized. Work on their implementation at the national level is continuing in coordination with private sector organizations.
Travellers in the region are familiar with the sight of lorries discharging crates or containers so that the goods inside, even when manufactured or produced in another EAC Partner State, can be inspected to see whether they meet the import standards of the country where they are destined for sale. By agreeing on and implementing the use of regional standards for products from sugar to cement, the need for multiple testing of products will be eliminated, saving time and money.
“By 2016, we are expecting that the standards work will have facilitated trade worth an estimated $3.5 billion,” say Maciel. “It’s a slow process, but our EAC partners are pushing ahead to remove these technical barriers to trade as soon as they can.”
Across the EAC, TMEA is helping Standards authorities and businesses understand, identify and adopt standards that will enable goods produced in one country to be sold easily in another. In order to provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach to regional harmonisation of standards, TMEA first supported the implementation of the 2012 EAC Procedures for Development of Standards, which includes international best practices on standards development. This took place through the provision of capacity building to national bureaus of standards representatives involved in standards harmonization. Support for regional harmonisation of standards followed.
It means a step-by-step approach, helping local authorities first raise awareness of the importance of standards in a region where defending local manufacturing against imports has been a default position, and promoting exports often secondary.
But the prospect of a vast internal market of 140 million people has focused policy-makers’ attention getting standards harmonised and recognized so that goods can cross borders freely and consumers be assured that they are getting exactly what it says on the label.
In Uganda, for example, TMEA is taking part with government agencies on a huge information campaign to raise understanding of the importance of quality standards among key segments of the business community and government infrastructure. This is very important in order to make the private sector aware of how relevant quality standards are to Ugandan consumers, producers and traders. As TMEA supports Uganda in introducing change in the way people and companies go about conducting their business, there must be a robust awareness campaign to go in tandem with it.
“The launch of the communications and awareness campaign for standards marks a big milestone in Uganda’s history,” said Amelia Kyambadde, Uganda’s Minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives.
“Not only will it improve the demand for quality products on the Ugandan market, it will go a long way in making Uganda’s products very competitive across borders in the EAC.”
After similar sensitization programmes, the next step is securing laboratory testing equipment for a variety of products, and TMEA has been instrumental in securing cutting edge equipment that will, for instance, assure consumers that the coffee they are getting is of the variety advertised on the label and contains nothing else.
Rwanda’s Bureau of Standards (RBS) has been twinned with the British Standards Institute and provided with equipment and training on how to use it: some 24 enterprises have been selected to train on standards at a series of business-changing workshops.
“We want to be a model of high standards”, says RBS Director-General Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe. “We want to help the East African Community improve the quality of their products to access international markets.”
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) has received, with TMEA support, highly sophisticated spectrometers that can analyse the purity of water and food. This will enable KEBS to assure its consumers, not just in Kenya, but wherever the items may be on sale, that the water and food products they buy is safe.