As global supply chains continue to grow, the international accreditation network, underpinned by internationally agreed standards, plays an essential role in the support of competitive markets and cross-border trade. This is increasingly important as businesses seek to lower costs or satisfy contract terms while maintaining a level of confidence that products are technically compatible, to specification and safe.
In such complex markets, reassurance in the measurements, tests, inspections or certification that might be performed in another jurisdiction is essential. Without a level of confidence, the free exchange of goods and services risks being hampered by technical barriers, thereby increasing costs for importers and consumers.
Such complexity also makes it cost-prohibitive for governments to undertake all the laboratory testing and certification necessary to protect public health and safety. The trend, therefore, is for governments to establish regulations which specify requirements to be met and procedures to be employed for demonstrating compliance, but to leave the private sector to conduct the actual process of verification of compliance.
'Conformity assessment' refers to the process-including activities such as testing, certification and inspection--by which products and services are verified to meet standards or technical specifications. In the regulated sector, conformity assessments demonstrate compliance with legislative requirements and, in the voluntary sector, provide assurance to consumers and importers that the products and services they procure meet specification.
Since conformity assessment bodies (CABs) are mostly commercial organizations, accreditation assesses and declares the technical competence of these organizations in order to provide confidence in their results or test data.
Mutual recognition arrangements
Internationally, two organizations coordinate accreditation: the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the International Accreditation Forum, Inc. (IAF--see box).
The vision of these two organizations is to grant multilateral mutual recognition arrangements (MRA) between their accreditation body members. Both ILAC and IAF aim to demonstrate the equivalence of the operation of their member accreditation bodies through these arrangements.
The principal aim of these arrangements is to support world trade by eliminating technical barriers to trade. The key to the arrangements is that the results of accredited organizations, when assessed by signatory accreditation bodies, are recognized as equivalent. In this way, certificates issued by accredited organizations can be accepted throughout the world.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards greater recognition of accreditation and the arrangements from governments and regulators. For example, in the Americas, regulators such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission for toy testing, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the nuclear area and the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the energy rating of products, have expressed their intention to rely on accredited laboratories. …