Export quality management #2: How to comply with technical requirements
So, you want to become a winner in the global marketplace? Part one of our blog series about export quality management covered the basics. Now it’s time for the next step: complying with technical requirements.
We stated it before, to become a winner in terms of export quality, you need, among other things, make products according to the standards, technical regulations, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures required in your export markets.
Seems like a bland topic? To be honest, it sort of is. But knowing what technical requirements are can help you become a successful player in the global market. So, are you ready? Great, let’s get into it, then.
We’ll start with some terminology lingo:
- Technical requirements – This is often a source of confusion because it includes 1) standards, 2) technical regulations and 3) SPS measures. Common usage of these expressions in many countries does not necessarily correspond to the specific legal meanings given to them in the international context of agreements. This international context is important to comprehend before reading the details of the requirements.
- The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade – Commonly referred to as the TBT Agreement. This is an international treaty administered by the World Trade Organization. In a nutshell, the TBT exists to ensure that standards, technical regulations, testing, and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The agreement only allows technical requirements created for legitimate purposes such as consumer or environmental protection.
Standards – a voluntary choice in principle
Now we’ve established a few terms, it’s time to take a closer look at the content of technical requirements, starting with standards. A standard is ‘just’ a document that describes the characteristics of a product or a service. These characteristics may cover a wide range of issues, such as design, weight, size, performance, environmental requirements, interoperability, materials, production process or service delivery or the protocols that allow computers or smartphones to connect. The standard may also include or even deal exclusively with terminology, symbols, packaging, marking or labelling requirements as they apply to a product, process or production method.
Standards can be public, meaning that they have been developed and published by recognized organizations, usually standardization organizations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). Private standards are developed without the help of national, regional, and international standards organisations. The reasons for the development of these standards are many and varied. To the group of private standards belong consortia standards such as GlobalGAP and BRC, retailer standards or codes of conduct, environmental and ethical system standards, such as Fairtrade and FSC. In principle, the aim of public standards is to improve social welfare, while the aim of private standards can be miscellaneous.
‘Voluntary’ means that you may decide for yourself which standards are relevant for you and whether the benefits of implementation outweigh its costs. In practice, customers increasingly require compliance with – often – private standards in several sectors.
Let’s get technical
Technical regulations are not standards, but these two are sometimes confused with each other because they seem alike. Technical regulations could be stand-alone documents, but they could also be based on standards or may refer to them. Whereas standards are considered voluntary in principle, technical regulations are mandatory, which means that everybody has to comply with them by law. The building blocks of a typical technical regulation are:
- Technical requirements for a product, with reference made to relevant standards. This is the cornerstone block, and is supported by the following two blocks:
- Conformity assessment – description of how testing, inspection and certification takes place;
- Regulation by authorities – how the processes of approval, market surveillance, and sanctions take place.
Technical regulations are given a range of different names. In the European Union, for example, they are called Directives, Regulations or Decisions. Technical regulations can apply to all industrial and agricultural products.
Ensuring compliance with technical regulations can be challenging for several reasons:
- One product can be subject to more than one technical regulation.
- Each regulation can be administered by different regulatory agencies in a country.
- Some regulations can be old and therefore finding information about them can be difficult.
- Each regulation has its own testing, inspection, and certification requirements.
Humans, animals, plants
Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS) are requirements imposed on goods by governments to control certain kinds of risks to human, animal or plant life and health. Sanitary measures deal with the protection of the life or health of humans or animals; phytosanitary measures are all about the protection of the life or health of plants. The measures include all relevant laws, decrees, regulations, requirements and procedures.
An SPS measure does not exclude a technical regulation. An agricultural product may therefore be subject to both technical regulations and SPS measures.
Know before you go
Mix the standards, technical regulations and SPS measures and you’ll get the technical requirements. Before you go, we have two additional tips:
- Each World Trade Organization member country has a national TBT/SPS enquiry point. They can help you with questions about standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures.
- When you investigate new markets, carefully look at legal and also ‘common’ buyer requirements.