Why we approve 128 new standards in readiness for AfCFTA – SON
By Charles Nwaoguji
The Standards Organization of Nigeria(SON) has taken proactive measures to ensure there is no blowback, in Nigeria’s participation in the African Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), by approving a new set of 128 Nigeria Industrial Standards.
Director General of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, Osita Aboloma said the SON Council has approved the Industrial Standards for publication, dissemination and use by Stakeholders in Nigeria to drive economic advancement by Manufacturers, Processors, Assemblers and Importers of products and services. These standards which are to further boost industrial and commercial activities in the country are in view of the imminent implementation of the AfCFTA.
According to Mr. Aboloma, the agreement has further necessitated rapid development and harmonisation of standards, conformity assessment procedures as well as mutual recognition of quality marks, to cover all sectors and facilitate trade across the continent through the elimination of technical barriers.
He enumerated areas covered by the approved standards as including civil/building technology, chemical technology, electrical and electronics, food/codex, petroleum products as well as liquefied petroleum cylinders among others.
The SON has always been mindful of its mandate of standards development, conformity assessment and Metrology assurance amongst others and with continuing fake products dominating the market space and even when those that are allegedly ‘original’ are paraded for sale even though they fall below standard, consequently, there is, without doubt, a need to ensure quality control of manufactured and imported products in Nigeria as the high volume of substandard products either manufactured or imported into the country continue to have deadly implications on the health of Nigerians and in some cases, resulted in loss of life and property.
It was in the light of this fact that stakeholders clamoured for amendment or total overhauling of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Act, 2004.
This clamour was largely due to the fact that the SON Act, 2004 as it was, did next to nothing in ensuring that standards relating to products were being met. This was due in part to the fact that the Law did not impose strict penalties for offences and also saddled the officers of the Organisation with minimal functions and powers.
It was in a bid to cure the defects in the SON Act, 2004 that the Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act of 2015, was enacted.
The Act was enacted for the purpose of providing additional functions for the Organisation, increasing penalty for violations; and for related matters.
The SON is now saddled with the responsibility of standardization in Nigeria. Standardization is simply, the process, by which, technical standards, that are based on agreement or consensus reached by diverse entities, such as the government and standard organizations and companies and interest groups, as well as users are developed and implemented.
The SON has decisive influence on the question to what degree Technical Barriers to Trade can present a stepping stone or rather a stumbling block towards the implementation of AfCFTA.
The agreement is the best for Africa’s Integration Agenda as it is a concrete, provable culmination of the goals of African Renaissance.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) predicts that the AfCFTA, which is prioritizing the production of value-added goods and services that are “Made in Africa”, has the potential to increase intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers, especially the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTS) are also reduced.
As the largest single free Trade area in the world, it could stimulate intra-African trade by up to USD 35 billion per year, or 52 per cent above the baseline, by 2022.
It could also lead to a USD 10 billion decrease in imports from outside the continent, while boosting agriculture and industrial exports by up to USD 4 billion 7 per cent and USD 21 billion 5 per cent respectively. The continent’s gross domestic product will rise from USD 1.7 trillion (2010) to USD 2.6 trillion (2020) pushing up consumer spending from USD 860 billion (2010) to USD 1.4 trillion (2020) and thus potentially lifting millions out of poverty.
AfCFTA is poised to contribute significantly to increased competitiveness of Africa’s industrial products through harnessing the economies of scale of a large continental market; increased rate of diversification and transformation of Africa’s economy and better integration of the continent into the global economy.
However under the TBT Annex 6, article 3: “the State Parties reaffirm their rights and obligations under the WTO TBT Agreement in respect of the preparation, adoption, and application of standards, technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures and related activities.”
This means that the challenge of mandatory regulations set by governments to meet their objectives regarding health, safety, and the environment, and for market-driven standards, set within the private sector, will continue.
To successfully access the African Common Market, under the AfCFTA, or meet local technical regulatory requirements, Governments will introduce more and more regulatory requirements to address inter-lia health, safety or environmental issues in accordance with the WTO TBT Agreement and the rights and obligation of members; Consumers will demand safety and quality assurance; Private and public authorities will continue to scrutinise imported/exported goods for compliance; Producers increasingly will need reputable evidence that their products and services meet regulatory, technical and other requirements.
AfCFTA, also seeks the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, yet there are the TBTs issues. For example: while the AfCFTA binds all State parties to commit to the progressive elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods, under the TBT Annex, Article 5: Fields of Cooperation, has provided that States Parties shall cooperate in the development and implementation of standards, technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures, accreditation, metrology, capacity building and enforcement activities in order to facilitate trade within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Further in Article 6.2 b, c, d and f respectively, calls on the State parties to adopt the harmonised African standards by ARSO and AFSEC. There is therefore a corresponding drive to create a more robust, adaptive, cost-effective, user-friendly and sustainable quality infrastructure (QI) system that provides access to appropriate standardization, metrology, accreditation, conformity assessment, and market surveillance capability and capacity, along with attendant education and promotion programmes, and based on a Quality Policy.
Speaking at the 56th council meeting of the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO), in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, recently, Aboloma stated that Nigeria through the instrumentality of the SON would continue to play vital role towards African’s economic integration and trade facilitation by applying effective standards and quality assurance initiatives. He commended the exemplary contributions of the founding fathers of ARSO like Nigeria via SON, for their vision and ideas on ways to stimulate Africa’s development and global competitiveness using of standardization tools.
According to him, ARSO has been playing a key role in the liberation of the African continent through facilitating the harmonization of National and regional standards and conformity assessment processes.
He said for now AfCTA must not be allowed to be a big elephant in the house that cannot be tamed if Nigeria must see that the continuing re-engineering of its economy for sustainable development be not be torpedoed and that SON must continue with its statutory role and its valuable initiatives for zero tolerance for substandard products and ensure that Nigeria beneficts fully from AfCFTA.