International trade is becoming increasingly complex. Countries are more frequently using Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) to control what products enter their markets. In 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) reported only 388 TBT, but this had risen to 3,337 per year by 2019.
Consumers want access to the latest products and will assume any product made available to them is safe, of high quality, and free from substances that are hazardous to the environment. The belief is that before a product can be placed onto the market, the supplier must have demonstrated its compliance with defined standards.
As part of its mandate, a government will use a variety of ‘non-tariff measures’, in the form of technical regulations, to protect its citizens and the environment. It might also introduce additional TBT to protect other national interests, for example, national security, religious beliefs, and local traditions. The aim is to ensure products placed onto the market are not harmful to individuals, the environment and society.
The WTO has 164 members, representing 98% of world trade.[i] Members are required to adhere to WTO principles, rules and specific agreements established by the members themselves. One agreement is the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement. This states a member’s economy should follow the principles established within the agreement itself, whenever they engage in trade with another WTO member.
The TBT Agreement came into effect in its present form on January 1, 1995, alongside the establishing of the WTO. It is legally binding on all WTO members and contains provisions that ensure technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. Through transparency, it seeks to create a predictable international trading environment.
At the same time, it recognizes the right of members to implement measures to achieve ‘legitimate’ policy objectives, such as protecting the environment and human health and safety. In pursuit of these ‘legitimate’ objectives, each country is free to set up their own set of technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures, but member states are strongly encouraged to base these measures on international standards.[ii]
Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC)
Many countries, especially developing ones, are now setting up import verification schemes that require goods to be screened at the country of origin prior to export. This ensures only compliant products will reach their borders.
Commonly referred to as Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) programs, these schemes require the exporter to secure a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) for their goods prior to shipping. Verification must be performed by a designated PVoC service provider that has been contracted by the importing country’s product regulatory body.
The process begins with the exporter delivering ‘proofs of conformance’ to the designated PVoC service provider. These normally take the form of product test reports and certificates from an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory, quality management certificates, internal test reports, mill test certificates and other similar documents.
The accredited PVoC service provider, on behalf of the importing country’s market regulator, will then assess these documents to ensure they meet defined PVoC requirements. If they fail to meet the required standard, the manufacturer is required to send their product for testing. If it then fails these tests, the manufacturer will be advised to take corrective measures (if possible), or a non-conformity report will be sent to the manufacturer and the market regulator. In this instance, the goods will not be accepted at the border.
Goods that pass the documentary assessment and/or product testing are then subjected to a shipment inspection. This independent inspection (conducted digitally or on-site) ensures the goods being shipped are the same as the ones that were assessed/tested (for traceability) and verifies other important information such as production/expiry date labels and markings, proper loading into drafts/containers, etc.
If the results of this inspection are unsatisfactory, a non-conformity report is sent to the exporter and importer. Without corrective actions, a CoC cannot be granted. However, if the shipment does meet the necessary standards, the accredited certification company will issue a CoC and the exporter may begin shipping the goods to the destination country.
This system has multiple benefits for exporters, importers, consumers and the target country.
For the country:
- Ensures unsafe, substandard and counterfeit products are not imported
- Reduces the risk of their market becoming a dumping ground for non-conforming products
- Safeguards local producers from unfair competition
- Protects citizens and the environment
For businesses it brings transparency and builds trust:
- Simplifies the customs clearance process
- Gives a competitive edge
- Ensures imported products can enter the country
- Ensures value for money
· Builds trust that the products they buy are safe and conform to relevant standards
Product Conformity Assessment (PCA) assists exporters operating in a variety of countries, including Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Kuwait, Mongolia, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zanzibar. SGS’s product specialists review verification reports from laboratory tests, physical inspections, factory audits, etc. to ensure compliance with PVoC requirements. The company offers a one-stop shop solution to help manufacturers and exporters operate successfully in complex markets around the world.
The SGS PCA service helps facilitate trade, protecting the interests of the traders through expedited customs clearance that ensure products comply with market requirements.
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