Understanding Saudi Arabia’s New Import Certification Scheme
Global businesses exporting to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will soon have some relief from the burdensome export documentation required by the country’s customs agency, and will soon be able to lean more on their import partners to acquire and complete mandatory certificates.
Saudi Arabia is in the process of implementing changes to the decades-old process for certifying consumer goods imported into the country.
The Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) oversees the system for the development of standards applicable within Saudi Arabia. All imported consumer goods must be accompanied by a Certificate of Conformity establishing compliance with SASO standards and specifications, or the consignment is subjected to laboratory testing to verify conformity with SASO standards before clearing customs at import.
This means that businesses intending to export goods to Saudi Arabia must obtain a Certificate of Conformity for each shipment bound for Saudi Arabia. The certificates are usually issued by bodies accredited by SASO or an accredited laboratory. Accreditation bodies certified by members of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) are also eligible to issue conformity certificates.
Most exporters to Saudi Arabia as well as traders in Saudi Arabia have long lived with the pain of the time-consuming process of obtaining a certificate of conformity for each shipment bound for Saudi Arabia. Once goods were ready for export, and invoices raised, exporters had to engage the services of an approved body to obtain a certificate of conformity before the shipment could leave for Saudi Arabia. This requirement, when combined with the requirements of attestation and legalisation of invoices and certificates of origin, led to a situation where considerable levels of inventory were being held immobile within the supply chain even after goods were ready for shipping with resulting undesirable increases to business in working capital requirements. Businesses have not shied away from referring to these process bottle necks as non-tariff barriers to trade.
The system is now bound for changes, albeit of an incremental nature.
SALEEM, the new certification scheme is expected to replace the Saudi Conformity Assessment program. It will operate through SASO’s newly implemented electronic, online service called SABER which has been created to streamline certification for imports into Saudi Arabia.
The scheme provides two types of certification. The first type is a certificate of conformity called the Product Certificate of Conformity (Product CoC). This certificate will be issued by registered certification bodies upon successful completion of tests and verifications of a product and will be valid for three years. The certificate confirms that a product complies with the technical standards and specifications issued by SASO.
The second type of certificate of conformity is called the Shipment Certificate of Conformity (Shipment CoC). This will be issued for each shipment, is valid only for that shipment, and is very much like the current certification scheme. This certificate confirms that all products within a shipment hold a valid Product Certificate of Conformity. Both the Product CoC and the Shipment CoC are mandatory before a shipment can be cleared for import into Saudi Arabia.
The main difference between the certification systems is that the certification required prior to import can be obtained online by the importer based inside the country. Importers will be connected through the SABER system to conformity assessment bodies and will be able to request and obtain Product CoCs through the system.
Once shipments are ready for export, importers can use the system to request and obtain Shipment CoCs online from certifying bodies. It is expected that Shipment CoCs will be issued within a very short time for products that hold a Product CoC. Online availability of Product and Shipment CoCs is therefore expected to shorten the time lines required for import clearance.
Although it was announced that conformity certification through the SABER system would be mandatory for the import of all consumer products after its introduction in January 2019, news reports suggest implementation has only been partially successful. Use of the system for obtaining conformity certificates is currently voluntary for most products, and conformity certificates under the old regime continue to be issued and used for import into Saudi Arabia.
Only a few product groups such as gas appliances and accessories, toys, low-voltage electrical equipment, and lubricating oils currently require mandatory certification through SABER.
Authorities are encouraging the use of the system by prioritizing the clearance of those imports holding conformity certificates issued through the SABER system. There have also been reports of linking the SABER system to FASAH, an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) System that will be used to exchange data electronically between Saudi Customs, ports, airports and private and public operators. Such a linkage can further enhance the efficiency of processing of imports into Saudi Arabia.
Businesses are hopeful that although it has been a slow start for the SALEEM certification scheme and the SABER system, a full implementation will eventually reduce the timelines required to import goods into Saudi Arabia, and consequently, the working capital requirements for businesses trading with, and within Saudi Arabia.