Quality: A Prerequisite for Exports: Increasing Complexity of Technical Requirements in Export Markets

Article excerpt

Exporters from developing countries are increasingly feeling the pressure to conform to international standards if they are to enter successfully developed country markets. Much has been achieved in various developing countries to construct the requisite quality infrastructure, to enable exporters both to understand the nature and detail of the quality standards to be met and to take the steps to comply with them. For many developing countries yet to install the necessary infrastructure to help their exporters meet market requirements, the path to effective arrangements is well defined and, importantly, there are many good examples to follow and opportunities to influence standards.

Non-tariff barriers--public and private

The gradual reduction of tariff barriers to facilitate trade has been accompanied by an increase in non-tariff barriers. These consist of technical regulations and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS), imposed by governments to protect the health and safety of their citizens and the environment, and voluntary standards established by national, regional and international standards bodies, such as ISO 9001 for quality management systems and ISO 22000 for food safety management systems. They also comprise private standards established by consortiums and retailers. In the food sector, periodic outbreaks of food-borne illnesses have led to stricter regulation, making suppliers of branded produce liable for the safety of their products unless they can show due diligence. This resulted in private standards developed by consortiums and forums, e.g. British Retail Consortium Technical Food Standard and GlobalG.A.P., produced by the Euro Retailer Produce Working Group on Good Agricultural Practice. Environmental and social concerns have led to standards such as Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, applicable mainly to the apparel, footwear and sewn sectors, SA 8000 on social accountability (see the article 'Closing the gap' on page 13), Forestry Stewardship Council for the wood and furniture sector, Marine Stewardship Council for fishery products, and standards for carbon footprints.

Challenges faced by enterprises in developing countries

The first thing needed by enterprises considering exporting their products is up-to-date information about the applicable technical requirements, both voluntary and mandatory, in the target markets. It is quite difficult, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to keep abreast of these constantly changing requirements.

After obtaining the right information, enterprises have to adapt their products to export market requirements. This may require expensive investment to purchase equipment and upgrade infrastructure. Furthermore, even if technical regulations and SPS are based on international standards, enterprises still have problems to overcome, as their specific needs may not have been considered when the standards were developed. Developing countries are generally 'standard-takers' rather than 'standard-makers'. Additionally, the proliferation of private standards dealing, inter alia, with food safety and environmental and social issues has resulted in complex challenges for exporters.

Once the product has been adapted to target market requirements, the exporter has to demonstrate compliance. In many cases, exporters are compelled to use foreign certification bodies as many developing countries lack domestic bodies that are recognized in the export market. Costs can be high. For food and agricultural products, it may not be possible to export in the absence of recognized domestic 'competent authorities' to certify the product to the requirements of the export market, e.g. exports of fishery products to the European Union (EU).

A major problem faced by enterprises exporting fruits and vegetables is the considerable time it takes to obtain market access. A profile of the pests and diseases associated with the potential export product has to be determined, in order to facilitate import risk analysis in the target market. …