The countries of the Caribbean region are too small to be followers of world trade. What they must become are creators of standards that will benefit them on the international stage.
Trade Advisor with the Ministry of Commerce in St. Lucia, Mr. McDonald Dixon, made this observation as the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards (SLBS) celebrated World Standards Day on Tuesday with a Staff and Technical Committee Awards ceremony.
“We are too small to follow the dictates of others, geared towards the fulfillment of aspirations not of our own making. Therefore it is timely for us not only as a country, but also as a sub-region, the OECS, to begin formulating standards that will satisfy the needs of our people,in the broad areas of health and safety and in specific fields such as security, environment and the elimination of corruption and deceptive practices.
“We must design technical regulations that guarantee the integrity of what we eat, the air we breathe and the water in which we bathe. No longer should we allow our large international trading partners to continue to dump inferior meats and foodstuff into our small markets with impunity, and when we seek to take action they are quick to point out that our measures are not in tandem with international regulations,” said Mr. Dixon.
The trade advisor added: “We must also seek to achieve in whatever we do, technical harmonization with other OECS member states and also within the larger CARICOM Community. We cannot compromise on quality or arrive at positions that can distort our efforts at trade facilitation. I know that the prescription is complex, but since when has there been a modicum of fairness in trade and commerce without some good sweat?”
Determined to not just focus on the problems without offering solutions, Mr. Dixon noted that the “education of civil society in the use of standards” would be key in the procurement of superior goods and services.
“Too often we forget that the main purpose for standards, regulations or measures is to improve the way of life our citizens. But the only way there can be appreciation is when benefits can be clearly enumerated and the people they are intended to assist or protect understand their purpose.”
He congratulated the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards on its awards, singling out those who work behind the scene to contribute to the development of standards in any way.
The Bureau concluded its week of activities with a bakers’ workshop at the Coco Palm Hotel on Thursday, followed by presentations today to the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.
Conformity assessment was the recent focus of three intensive days of activities in St. Kitts and Nevis, when the St. Kitts & Nevis Bureau of Standards, together with the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards & Quality (CROSQ), hosted a national meeting and a three-day workshop.
The half-day national meeting held in the Conference Room of the Department of Agriculture, La Guerite, was attended by approximately 30 stakeholders, and was addressed by Acting Executive Director of the SKNBS, Mr. Hiram Williams; Technical Officer – Accreditation & Conformity Assessment, CROSQ, Mr. Trumel Redmond; and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Mr. Charleton Edwards.
In welcoming participants to the meeting and workshop, Mr. Williams indicated, “It is timely for us to have this National Meeting and Workshop that will provide participants with an awareness and understanding of the benefits of conformity assessment systems for facilitating trade.”
He further encouraged persons to “take advantage and make the best use of the training activities that are designed to make them more efficient and competitive in the delivery of their products and services”. He also acknowledged the support of Mr. Edwards, and the Hon. Richard Skerritt, Minister of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
Conformity assessment is the process used to demonstrate that a product, process, person, service or body fulfils identified requirements. Mr. Redmond indicated that, “Conformity assessment is necessary to ensure products perform the way we expect them to perform. It ensures services are carried out by qualified, competent, reliable persons or organisations and that products are safe and fit for purpose.”
“As one of the implementing partners of the Technical Barriers to Trade project of the 10th European Development Fund programme, CROSQ is seeking the involvement of stakeholders in the development of a regional certification and wider conformity assessment framework,” he added.
The meeting gave participants an opportunity to provide input for the development of the framework, and heartened by the keen interest shown by participants, Mr. Edwards encouraged those participating in the workshop to ensure that what was learnt at the workshop would be used for positive development of the economy.
He said, “We ought to ensure that we continue to maintain the momentum that we have achieved to date with respect to manufacturing but there are other areas we want to see some further development. We need to ensure that there is continued growth, continued increase in competitiveness because the global economy is no longer a small economy but therefore the global economy is our economy and we must be able to participate and make sure that we can benefit from globalization and don’t be afraid of globalization.”
The three-day workshop from October 8 to 10, focussed on the ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO 15189 standards which provide requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, and medical laboratories respectively.
Participants included representatives from the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs, Nevis; Department of Agriculture, Nevis; veterinary services; Fahies Agricultural Women’s Cooperative Society; Environmental Health Department; St. Kitts Dairies Ltd.; CFB College; Ross University; University of Medicine and Health Sciences; Department of Coops; Sun Island Clothes; Kajola-Kristada Ltd.; and the St. Kitts and Nevis Bureau of Standards.
While diagnosing quality infrastructure issues which exist in the value chains for nutmeg and its distribution, stakeholders in the nutmeg sector in Grenada recently got some needed feedback on what is being done correctly and tips on what needs to be done to create better products for export.
The CALIDENA diagnostic workshop, held in Grenada from September 24 to 26, tackled a number of areas critical to the nutmeg value chain. The term “value chain” is based on the concept that the value of a product is created at various stages in production, and looks at all these steps from creation to market, to human resources, research and development, as well as the relationships behind the companies involved in developing the product. CALIDENA is a component of the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ)-implemented, and the National Metrology Institute of Germany, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt –PTB funded, Establishment of a Demand-Oriented and Regionally Harmonized Quality Infrastructure in the Caribbean Project, more commonly known as the RQI4.
Grenada’s CALIDENA consultant, Dr. Guido Marcelle, as part of the workshop, facilitated a Skype call with Shashi Foods, a Canadian buyer of cracked nutmeg, who noted that the low aflatoxin was one of the reasons that country’s product is preferred. Aflaxotin refers to any of a variety of certain toxins found in some plants and products naturally. The buyers also expressed satisfaction with the product, but noted that shipping was too slow.
“Proper weight, not too much granules, and cleanliness” were identified as requirements for Grenadian exporters, and it was noted that samples of the products were currently tested in an accredited laboratory in New York before shipment and on arrival.
The buyers, Mr. A. J. Shah and his brother, indicated they found the price of nutmeg in Grenada favourable and were comfortably able to resell, even though they found the quantities too small. The nutmeg mainly went to bakeries and for use in seasonings, the buyer said, but also commented on what he said was the declining oil content in the product over the past year, which might be a result of smaller pieces of nutmeg being shipped.
Mr. Shah said they had visited and conducted audits of places where they could source nutmeg in Grenada, following which participants requested a quota from the buyer of how much product they could reasonably take so the farmers could prepare in the short and long term. The buyer said they were contracted to receive six containers from the GCNA, but were prepared to take more if available.
Mr. Simeon Collins, outgoing Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standard, in his presentation on "QI in a Small Island State", suggested that even though small islands were disadvantaged because of their size in comparison to their competitors, buyers still expect the same quality. One of the major difficulties he listed is that because the states are small they do not have the necessary funds to facilitate all aspects of the QI. He stated that the function of standardization, conformity assessment and metrology were usually done by the same institution.
On day two, the participants in the workshop took to the fields for a visit to a nutmeg farm in Mt. Granby, and a nutmeg processing plant in Gouyave.
The following and final day of the CALIDENA workshop, participants were split into four groups to examine the relative standards in Grenada and CARICOM, in North America, Europe and finally the requirements for organic exportation of nutmeg or mace.
With every CALIDENA workshop, one of the objectives is to come up with an action plan, and the final day saw the creation of a plan for Grenada surrounding the documentation for the workshop, information for decision-makers, and an overall follow-up of a number of areas identified for improvement. Among areas selected were: the development of guidelines, eg. Good Agricultural Practices; adaptation of regional standard for organically produced products; the revision by Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association of the handbook dealing with processing of nutmeg; standards-based training for farmers in the processing of fruit; and, training for laboratory technicians in the area of medicinal and cosmetics.
After 25 years at the helm of the main organisation for standards in Grenada – the Grenada Bureau of Standards (GDBS), Mr. Simeon Collins is saying farewell to his homeland, at least for now.
Leaving this week on pre-retirement, he is already tipped to continue offering his expertise in food science at the regional level, as he takes up the mantle of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA), as CEO.
“I came onto the Grenada Bureau when it was a new institution and they were looking for technical staff. I had actually just returned home with a Master’s Degree from the University of British Columbia in Food Science and during that programme we were looking at standards and quality controls, and it was what I wanted to do in terms of standardisation and with my own background in metrology,” said Mr. Collins.
So he spent the next 25 years learning, even as he led the Bureau, because it was a completely new development for his country.
“When we started it was in a very anti-standards environment. When you went to help businesses and companies understand about standards, sometimes you were met with a very hostile environment. No one knew what standards were. There were, for example, supermarkets and shops that had products in bags that were just tied at the top; but that has changed. Now products are labelled and packaged.
“Now people are begging us to come in so they can get their standards up, so they can get accredited. Everyone wants to improve their business now because they realise how it can make them competitive, locally, regionally and internationally,” added Mr. Collins.
Over his period of leadership, he said the Bureau had led the development of over 200 new standards, the implementation of 50 regional standards and 25 international CODEX standards. Additionally, he noted there were also a number of technical standards that they were marching towards consistently, along with others they had implemented, like in tyres, flour and toilet tissue, to name a few.
The outgoing chief said they were also conducting inspections and tests, with an increasingly competent metrology programme running in the country that now controlled its scales and sewerage pump programmes. There are also testing facilities now for standards at the chemical and micro-biological level.
“We are touching on all levels of standardisation now, even in the tourism sector where attractions and other businesses are seeking accreditation. The Bureau has moved to become one we are proud of and where people are even asking now for more services.”
He added that he hoped the Bureau would continue with the programmes it had developed, even as it tried to achieve more – to continue with testing, certification, and the push to get its labs accredited through the 10th European Development Fund Technical Barriers to Trade project, facilitated by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ).
As he moves on to the regional level, Mr. Collins said it was not such that he was moving into a new realm, but continuing the old one.
“CAHFSA is the region’s answer to the WTO SPS (World Trade Organisation Sanitary and Phytosanitary) Agreement. We are looking at developing standards in the area of plant health and other areas, getting the headquarters to function as it needs to and developing the standards to meet our food needs.”
In offering his congratulation to Collins, CROSQ’s Officer-in-Charge, Mr. Russell Franklyn thanked the former director for his commitment.
“On behalf of the CROSQ Secretariat I would like to thank Mr. Collin for his support and commitment to the CROSQ Secretariat. I would also like to congratulate him on his retirement and appointment to the post of CEO of CAHFSA.
“I recently had the opportunity in Grenada where CROSQ, along with the GDBS, held a CALIDENA diagnostic workshop on the country’s nutmeg sector, to speak with Mr. Collins about his relationship with CROSQ in the past, and thanking him for what he has done thus far. I am sure this will continue in his new role and I want to wish him every success with this new Agency,” said Franklyn.
The region this week came one step closer to having a quality infrastructure policy for CARICOM states.
Earlier this week, the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ), in collaboration with the Barbados National Standards Institute, hosted a half-day long national consultation on the draft regional policy at the Courtyard by Marriott.
In her opening remarks, BNSI Director, Anthea Ishmael noted, "The expected result is to progress toward achieving a modern regional and national quality infrastructure, according to internationally-recognised principles for international trade as defined in the WTO Agreement and the TBT Charter of the EPA.
"This result aims to address the problem of lack of regional/national 'Quality Infrastructure' to facilitate and ensure compliance with technical regulations of international trade partners and with international standards and conformity assessment procedures, therewith strengthening the region’s international competitiveness and sustainable production of goods and services within the CARIFORUM states," she said.
CROSQ's Technical Officer – Standards, Fulgence St. Prix, explained that coming out of that event they were hoping to compile all of the suggestions and comments for further consideration, as the consultations draft now moves to Jamaica and then Belize for their participation as well.
"This is all part of the regional effort to consult as many stakeholders in the 16 member states, to share the draft policy with them, to get their input and also get the necessary buy-in for the policy. Barbados is the 14th member state we have consulted," he said.
The Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards has withdrawn from sale a number of products with implications for health and safety of consumers.
The withdrawal affects a batch of toys, baby powder and small electrical appliances.
The following products, Rubee Baby Powder, Xiulong Electrical LED Torch and Ferhat Balls were withdrawn under the Compulsory Standards Compliance programme. The concerns for health and safety are related to possible skin irritations due to non-compliance in product labeling, choking and strangulation hazards for small children as well as electrical shocks from exposed wiring.
The SLBS is maintaining a rigorous market surveillance process to ensure products which have the potential to cause harm to consumers are intercepted well before they become available as well as aggressive monitoring at the point of sale.