Imperatives of Standardisation to Economic Growth and Diversification

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Crusoe Osagie posits that for Nigeria to experience actual economic growth and diversification, she must take crucial steps to make products that meet global standards and are competitive

Nigeria has paid lip service to the diversification of her economy for years and seemingly got away with it, but not anymore.

In the last 14 months, Nigerians have seriously felt the pinch of a deflated economy where many players in the market grapple for the very little resources available.

The forex shortage that currently plagues the country is a typical example of the fall out of a crisis that has held the nation captive for the past few weeks and months.
After bowing to pressure, and implementing the flexible foreign exchange regime, Nigerians appear hoodwinked to think that their problem with forex shortage is over.

On the contrary however, it does not matter what the pundits and analysts think about the effectiveness or otherwise of the new CBN policy; one fact is unchanged and that is that the country remains a consumption nation, which produces nearly nothing for the export market excepts crude oil. Yet it imports nearly all that it consumes including nearly all its food and fuel.

So, it is just a matter of time before manufacturers and other players in the nation’s economy go cap in hand in search for scarce forex.
President of Dangote Group and perhaps the biggest industrialists in Africa, Aliko Dangote, recently said he first heard about the urgent need to diversify the Nigerian economy in the year 1979.
He however noted that adequate steps were not taken to implement the lofty idea, leading to the current imbroglio after the price of crude oil plummeted recently.

Standardisation and Diversification

Speaking of the urgent need to diversify the nation’s economy however, it cannot be a complete conversation without talking about the quality of products and standardisation.

The African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO) last week said it has started new strategies to ensure standards in agricultural produce in Africa impact positively on the Africa economies.

A member of the ARSO Council and the acting Director-General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Dr. Paul Angya, said the standardisation of produces would boost end-product competitiveness.

ARSO plans to deploy standards and strategies to boost agriculture in Africa, noting that the move was to ensure that African countries adhere and comply with global best standards to impact positively on African economies.
Angya noted that the Africa’s standards body intends to help African countries revolutionise its agricultural sector and also adopt new technologies to boost productivity.

He added that the development would help Africa to move away from reliance on food imports, to securing food supplies through rapid and sustainable increase in food production.

Angya reiterated that Africa’s year of quality infrastructure would be used to chart new priorities and strategies for agriculture, maintaining that with the new standardisation efforts, the input supply and product processing sectors would become more consolidated, concentrated and integrated.

According to him, contributions of the organisation in harmonising standards for fertilizers and agrochemicals for agricultural sector on harmonisation of standards are aimed to boost international trade, pointing out that there is a great improvement in African countries aligning with international standards to improve their market access and boost regional trade.

He said standards had become a tool in the fight for competitiveness and for creating barriers for regional trade while emphasising the need for African standards to be a benchmark against international standards.
According to him, Africa regional cooperation and deeper integration of services and standards will increase trade among Africa countries, saying this is a given priority in ARSO.

The SON boss noted that plans were also ongoing to ensure that membership of the body was increased to foster involvement of many regions in the intra-African trade.
“There is the need to strengthen Africa’s economic independence through standards and empower the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy.

“I wish to emphasise that global competition has become more intensified in terms of quality, price, supply chain management and dependability of delivery systems. Changing consumer preferences are changing producers’ responses to market signals. This has further reinforced the need to harmonise standards if we have to play in the global market,” he added.

He stressed that ARSO would be forging collaboration among national standard bodies, regional blocs, Pan African Quality Infrastructure bodies, the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to facilitate the chances of Africa to become a major player within the global market.

Angya explained that countries would only remain competitive when their companies and businesses are competitive.
Also speaking at the event, the Minister for Trade, Industry and Investment of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mr. Charles Mwijage, tasked ARSO to fast track the harmonisation process, saying it was long overdue and urged ARSO to develop concrete proposals in harmonising standards, adding that standards remained a key component of competitiveness.

“To be a part of a regional or global supply chain, the standards of a country remained a key.
“It is important at this stage to take the works of ARSO and technical bodies to the political level if harmonisation goals would be realised. International standards should also be part of African standards because there is no need to reinvent the wheel except developing the ones that are peculiar to the regions to increase the economies of scale,” he added.

ASRO Secretary General, Dr. Hermogene Nsengimana , noted that capacity building, women empowerment, value addition to agriculture produce and link to the African Union continental free trade areas were needed for Africa to have its global market share‎.

Nsengimana urged members to effectively explore other international standardisation partners to fast track industrialisation.

Standardisation and Economic Growth

The SON, has appealed to all stakeholders in the nation’s productive, manufacturing and export value chains to avail themselves of the agency’s Globally Certified Laboratories services to promote growth.

Recently, SON scored good points following the testing, accreditation and certification of its Food Technology Laboratories located in Lagos by the International Laboratory Accreditation Co-operation/American Laboratory Association. This good news has a clear implication: it implies that once locally made agricultural produce and other agro-allied goods are tested and certified by the SON Food Technology Laboratories, they would automatically become globally accepted.

For a long time, Nigerian products have suffered rejections at the international market. Again, we should know that what is not good for export is equally not good for local consumption. The laboratories will change the whole history of global market rejection of Nigeria’s exports.

According to agency officials, with the newly accredited laboratories, Nigeria is set to get results in terms of export promotion and high investment portfolio. The arrival of the SON’s Food Technology Laboratories indeed brings home the gospel of national economic diversification which the federal government has been propagating.
Internationally accredited laboratories open a window of opportunities for all and sundry- the government, SMEs, MSEs, producers, manufacturers, exporters, operators in the agro-allied sectors and several others.

Benefits of Labs

Accreditation has become almost a de facto prerequisite to international trade. Lack of acceptable laboratory test data and certification across national borders has been identified as a significant barrier to trade. Accreditation of SON laboratories therefore provides assurance for trading partners that SON is competent to test export food products, especially for food contaminants. At the same time, compliance with the World Trade Organisation:

Technical Barriers to Trade (WTO TBT) agreement thus overcoming trade barriers is assured. Section 6.1.1 of the TBT Agreements states in part that, “…verified compliance, for instance through accreditation, with relevant guides or recommendations issued by international standardising bodies shall be taken into account as an indication of adequate technical competence.” An accreditation system can provide importing countries with a cost efficient basis to be confident in the qualities of goods, and an assurance that they satisfy the technical standards of their own regulations. In other words, results from an ISO/IEC 17025: 2005 accredited laboratory in this situation from Nigeria eliminates the possibility of goods being denied access on the basis of inadequate conformity assessment.
Other contributions of good and acceptable laboratories to growth are as follows:

• Institutionalisation of Laboratory Quality Management System
Accreditation is beneficial to government and regulators and promotes Good Regulatory Practice (GRP). Process and activities are adequately managed resulting in an effective quality management system which is fundamental to assurance of consistency, credibility and validity of test results and services.

• Increased Quality of Operations:
Accreditation improves organisational efficiency through the reduction of waste, time utilisation and streamlined management procedures.

• Accreditation as a Marketing Tool for Developing Countries.
Accreditation is internationally recognised as a reliable indicator of technical competence. National economies which have established an accreditation infrastructure are better positioned to build national and international confidence in the quality of products and services which they produce. Increased consumer confidence, especially on an international scale is likely to aid national and regional economic growth.

• Customers’Preference. Laboratory accreditation confers national and internal recognition and promotes patronage and economic benefits to both SON and Nigeria. It gives assurance that test results are obtained using properly validated and calibrated systems by staff with the right expertise and therefore offers an easy means to customers in determining and choosing reliable analytical services.

• Institution and Personnel Recognition:
Laboratory accreditation confers high respectability both at the national and international levels as an indicator of technical competence. It bestows self-confidence, esteem and prestige to SON and its laboratories services personnel.

• Cost Effectiveness: The process of laboratory accreditation is regulated and standardised according to international norms with common approaches and acceptability for test reports and certificates issued by accredited laboratories, thus preventing the repetition of tests and analyses between parties/countries and reducing costs.
Let us also quickly note that the SON laboratories services will provide a check list that would facilitate the development and accreditation of private laboratories across the country.

SON has since offered free certifications to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, (SMEs) as part of the efforts to diversify the nation’s economy from oil to non-oil sectors. These SMEs/MSEs therefore owe it a duty not only to continue to identify, collaborate and synergise with SON, but also to make effective use of the agency’s laboratories. There is no need cutting corners in this business since SON now provides the leeway for the robust and continuous development of SMEs in Nigeria.

Also, there is the crucial need for the SMEs, and others to take advantage of the SON Food Laboratories by making their products available for testing at minimal cost, depending of course on, the time they would be ready to develop and have their own standard Laboratories. Nigeria is a big country with huge potentials; the approved SON Laboratories are just a stepping stone by the organisation to make its campaign of Made-in-Nigeria-for the –World, a huge success.