The aim of African Standardisation is to raise awareness among African regulators, industry, academia, consumers and the entire African Citizens on the benefits of standardisation of Africa’s economy. KEHINDE IBRAHIM reports.
The major theme for African standardisation is “The role of Standards in promoting sustainable Agriculture and food security in Africa.”
Like the World Standards Day, being celebrated every October to commemorate the birth of ISO and the importance of international standardisation, the initiative for the African day of Standardisation is for the commemoration of the birth and foundation of ARSO by the African Union (formerly OAU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA, and the commitment of Founding Fathers and the twenty one (21) African Governments represented at the ARSO launching Conference in Ghana International Conference Centre, Accra, Ghana, years back to push for the Standardisation and Conformity Assessment Agenda in Africa to promote sustainable development in Africa.
The principal mandate of ARSO is to harmonise African Standards and conformity assessment procedures in order to reduce Technical Barriers to Trade and therefore promote intra African and international Trade as well as enhance the industrialisation of Africa.
However, experts and state officials explained that one main step and a leap forward towards striking the right chord for African regional and continental market is the issue of harmonisation of standards across the 54-member-countries of the African Union, AU, formerly Organisation of African Unity, OAU.
There is indeed a silhouette of hope. The African Organisation for Standardisation, ARSO, provides the vehicle and platform to achieve the African dream. Formed in 1977, ARSO currently headed by Nigeria’s Dr. Joseph Odumodu who co-incidentally is the Director General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, has been upbeat concerning the way forward for Africa’s quest to join the global market.
At a crowded pre-forum World Press Conference in Lagos recently, Dr. Odumodu argued that harmonising African standards remained the way to go for Africa’s inclusiveness and trade facilitation.
“The event of the ARSO President’s Forum for Chief Executive Officers, CEOs, of National Standards Bodies, NSBs, holding from 22nd – 24th June, 2015 which is being launched today through this media coverage is meant to sensitise the World on the readiness of African standardisers to strengthen the continental integration by breaking inhibiting economic barriers through standardisation to enhance industrial and economic empowerment.”
He said hosting the CEOs of NSBs in Africa through the ARSO President’s Forum calls for celebration, as a milestone in the history of ARSO in particular and Africa in general, as its outcome will fulfill the dreams of the founding fathers of the AU and by extension, the ARSO. This first of its kind event, also fulfills a long desire by Africa to take its future and development in its hands.
The Abuja Forum which has been tagged: “Africa Rises for Standards in Abuja” will amongst other expectations bring about the strengthening of the standardisation capacities of Africa through dialogues, information and experience sharing, which will form the key elements required to promote and sustain Africa’s productivity and trade.
As had been highlighted earlier, ARSO, according to the SON boss seeks to integrate the whole of Africa through standardisation to empower the continent to look within itself for sustenance. Standardisation is capable of breaking borders and barriers inhibiting trade and development. The giant strides being recorded by some countries and Regional Economic Blocs in exports to other continents are noted and laudable but could be better without the current intra-continental barriers which have continued to remain stumbling blocks even with neighbours.
Be that as it may, the current global activities in trade indicate that no country or continent can advance industrially, economically and socially, without the culture of quality and standards.
Interestingly, ARSO, the umbrella body of all the standards bodies of nations in the continent of Africa traces its genesis to the unfolding events and the prevailing mood of the African socio-political and economic Pan-Africanism of the 60s and 70s, with the mission to facilitate intra-African and global trade through providing and facilitating the implementation of harmonised standards.
An Inter-governmental body created by leaders of African Union to regulate standardisation of products and services in Africa, the organisation has lived up to expectation in recent times through its activities and efforts in actualising her mandate of developing tools for standards development, standards harmonization and implementation of these systems to enhance Africa’s internal trading capacity, increase Africa’s product and service competitiveness globally. The President’s Forum for Chief Executive Officers of NSBs in Africa holding in Abuja, from June 22-24, 2015, will provide the required framework as well as opportunity for the African CEOs to strategize on actualizing the recommendations made by the Ministers to ensure the smooth take off of the Continental Free Trade Area, CFTA, which means that Africa will become one common market, just like the European Union markets by 2017. This mandate was given to ARSO by AU Leaders in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
At the AU Conference of Ministers of Trade in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2014, it was recommended that “All AU Member States that are currently not members of ARSO should endeavor to attain membership by the year 2017”. This has become imperative so as to mobilise all National Standards Bodies, NSBs, into the membership of ARSO in order to drive the standardisation programmes necessary for the strengthening of the competitiveness of “Made in Africa” products as well as engender regional and/or continental fusion into an economic book.
Experts describe a ‘Standard’ as an agreed way of doing things; a set of criteria that defines the minimum specifications for a product or service. It creates confidence, brings benefits and order to everyday life. Standards promote quality assurance, international trade, grow business, and enhance consumer protection. They ensure safety and reliability of products, save cost, and improve life generally. Conformity to standards increases productivity and helps in reassuring consumers of the safety and efficiency of a product. The current global activities in trade indicate that no country or continent can advance industrially, economically and socially, without the culture of quality and standards.
According to ARSO President/DG, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, “ARSO seeks to integrate the whole of Africa through standardisation to empower the continent to look within itself for sustenance.” He stated further that “standardisation is capable of breaking borders and barriers inhibiting trade and development.”
The role of standards in facilitating trade cannot be over emphasised. ARSO has its hands full with the proliferation of the sub-standard goods in many African nations. Regional and continental trade will suffer terribly if the issue of standards were not properly addressed and given prominence. Standards ensure products and services are safe, inspire added trust in business, help reduce technical barriers to international trade, opens borders, invariably leading to sustainable development. Standards affect every aspect of life and according to the South African Bureau of Standards, “Standards may be thought of as the oil that lubricates the machinery of economic growth and international competitiveness.”
The influence of the CEOs of NSBs in trade within and outside Africa cannot be overemphasised because in Africa, NSBs are mainly responsible for initiating and developing product standards. Nothing can be achieved without the meaningful input of the CEOs, so the time has come for all hands to be on deck to move the continent forward because inter-country trade facilitation is an engine of economic growth. No economy survives where sub-standard products hold sway. Until quality is emphasised in production of goods and services, the continent will always take a back seat in global industrialization, Dr. Paul Angya, a top official of SON declared.
Analysts also aver that the Chief Executive Officers forum will provide an opportunity to chart a course for the standardization of African products and the integration of a common market, as all barriers inhibiting trading within Africa would be removed for free flow of goods and services.
The theme of the ARSO Forum, “Africa Rises for Standards in Abuja” is apt at this time as it will also contribute to Africa’s integration through the use of standardization in the removal of all technical barriers to trade to enable Africans trade as a common continent and common people for her integration, competitiveness and economic emancipation.
The organisation should ensure that the dream of having proudly made-in-Africa goods competing globally with their counterparts across the world is actualized through improved standards without which there would be no improved quality of products. Quality should be made a criterion for market entry to underscore the benefits of standardisation as a powerful tool for promoting and protecting the economic interests of consumers.
The International Organisation for Standardisation, ISO, equally believes that countries that have mainstreamed international standards in their policies and regulations are able to better protect their populations and give them a bigger choice of quality products.
Something good can come out of Africa should ARSO do the needful to see that the continent is given a pride of place globally if standards and quality are given utmost priority. Companies should be helped with enabling policies and standards development. No man is an island so, the ones that are willing to abide by the tenets of the organisation should be helped to unlock the potentials of trade through quality products and services so as to drive inclusive and sustainable growth and development, analysts observe.
Sources close to the Africa’s standards body argue that it has become imperative for ARSO to endeavor to bring into its fold other African countries that are yet to embrace its policies and ideology. Member countries and aspiring ones who do not have national standards bodies should be assisted to establish them to enable their standardisation activities be carried out by qualified personnel in a well-equipped, functional and befitting structure.
The onus lies on ARSO to enforce standards since they are crucial for the orderly and efficient flow of goods and services in domestic and international trade. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. The organisation is well-positioned to champion the cause of standardisation because standards as they say make the world a safer place, ARSO officials explained.