Harmonising standards in the region

Trade: About 86 percent of intra-regional trade in the SAARC region is affected through non-tariff measures (NTM), adoption of non-uniform standards being one of the NTMs.

The South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (SARSO) is working to harmonise the different standards in the region. Once the standards are developed and agreed, all member nations have to accept the products certified under the SARSO standards, which is in line with the standards of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) .

A workshop on harmonising standards was held yesterday.

SARSO’s deputy director, Tashi Wangchuk said standards on food and agricultural products and building materials are important for Bhutan.

Currently, the cement manufacturer in the country has to obtain certification from the Indian Standards Institution (ISI) to export the product to India. After the agreement and development of SARSO standards, all products certified by the standards organisation of one member nation has to be accepted by other member states.

Sectoral Technical Committees have been established to facilitate harmonisation of SARSO standards. For instance, a committee on food and agriculture products will work on harmonising all microbiological standards for cream portion of biscuit, refined sugar and instant noodles, among others. Likewise a committee for jute, textile and leather products has also been formed. Building materials, chemicals, electrical and electronics, are other committees.

Tashi Wangchuk said that it is important for technical committees of the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) to sit on the SARSO technical committee. He said that the committee member should consult with the industries and other stakeholders because once finalised, countries will have to accept the standards. “It has to benefit the industries,” he said.

If countries are using different standards from that of SARSO, individual countries will have to bring necessary changes to implement the SARSO standards.

However, the director general of SARSO, (Dr) Syed Humayun Kabir said some meetings had to be postponed due to lack of quorum.

Challenges are also aplenty in the BSB. In spite of the government directive to use BSB standards for procurement in the government agencies, the deputy executive engineer, Jigme Wangchuk said enforcement is quite relaxed.

With some agencies developing their own standards and conducting inspections, duplication and inconsistencies was another issue, he said.

Another challenge affecting the BSB was technical committees not turning out for meetings and implementing agencies not deputing the right person on the committee.

Like many other autonomous agencies, BSB is also confronted with limited financial capacity.

The BSB however has the capacity to facilitate ISO certification. Officials said apart form the product itself, there are lot of ISO certification pertaining to other aspects.

For instance, ISO 9001, the most used certification code, conveys the quality of management of an organisation to its consumers. Likewise there are other codes for energy usage, environment, safety, asset management and anti-bribery measures, among others. “Even the government agencies and private individuals can apply for these ISO certification,” an official said.

Standards, officials said, are voluntary. It becomes mandatory when countries document it in their rules. Standards organisations like BSB and SARSO develop standards and facilitate the work of regulatory bodies.

Tshering Dorji

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