Services are the largest component of both developed and developing country economies and constitute major inputs into the production of most “tangible” goods. 

This wasn’t the case only a few decades ago, when a proposal to bring services into the multilateral trading system was met with opposition, with many countries worried about “rules” undermining their ability to pursue national policy objectives and constraining their regulatory powers. The creation of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), however, proved to be a landmark achievement by allowing “a high degree of flexibility within the framework of the rules and market access commitments”. The industrial sector is no longer leading growth; services are now recognized as a swifter and more lucrative alternative. 

The economy of Antigua and Barbuda – like that of many small island developing states – is services-driven. Tourism and tourism-related services are responsible for 85% of all foreign exchange earnings and account for over two-thirds of GDP. In its efforts to galvanize economic development, the government is pursuing investment in niche markets, including but not limited to tourism, international financial services, offshore education, and information and communication technologies. These are some of the fastest-growing and most rapidly changing service sectors. The ISO New Rights Pilot Programme1) has allowed Antigua and Barbuda to participate in, and influence the development of, International Standards in such areas as tourism, management consultancy and quality management systems. 

Service trade is the new frontier. Service providers consistently need to meet and anticipate customer requirements, while providing them with the service they want “right the first time” and every time thereafter – eliminating the need for rework or replace. The development of the “service economy” further underscores the need for standards. 

As a result of the global importance of services, ISO has organized a workshop to be held in June 2016, in Geneva, Switzerland, to obtain feedback from relevant stakeholders on the need for International Standards on services.

The event explores how ISO standards can help to design, assess and measure service excellence, benefitting both businesses and consumers. The outputs and outcomes of the workshop will help the service sector realize its core values such as social responsibility, service excellence, collaboration/consensus building, reliability and competence as it strives to meet customers’ needs and expectations. 

Without a doubt, standardization will support the services sector by increasing its competitiveness and market access – necessary to boost the sector’s contribution to economic growth and development. Service standards will enable transparency and comparability of services, promote reliability and effectiveness as well as improve efficiency and quality. They will also enhance consumer confidence in services and service providers alike. 

Given the multifaceted contribution of services to the global economy and trade, it is critically important for service providers to have a “standards platform” from which they are able to supply quality services, while still ensuring innovation, technology transfer and differentiation among competitors. And what better forum for continual improvement than ISO?

 - The above text is an article published in ISO Focus, May-June 2016 Issue 116, featuring Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards, Mrs. Dianne Lalla-Rodrigues and the country of Antigua and Barbuda.

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