THE ISSUE: Good standards make economic sense

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THERE IS NO DOUBT that over the years Barbados has paid attention to standards. This is illustrated by the fact that in 1973 the Barbados National Standards Institution (BNSI) was established as a joint venture between Government and the private sector under the Companies Act

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BNSI’s main functions include preparing, promoting and implementing standards in all sectors of the economy; promoting quality systems, quality control and simplification in industry and commerce; and certifying products, commodities and processes.

Beyond its own efforts, Barbados is part of a CARICOM-wide system of standards enforcement. This was formally introduced when member states established the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ). This was done under Article 67 of the Revised Treaty Of Chaguaramas, signed by the Heads of Government on July 5, 2001.

Standards and technical regulations fall under chapter four of the Revised Treaty Of Chaguaramas, and the Council for Trade and Economic Development was mandated to work with “competent agencies” to develop a standardisation programme.

Its objectives included “trade facilitation; enhanced efficiency in the production and delivery of goods and services; improved quality of goods and services traded within the Community and with third states; and consumer and environmental protection”.

The programme included “harmonisation of standards and technical regulations, and transparency in the development and promulgation of standards and technical regulations; recognition of conformity assessment procedures through mutual recognition agreements or other means; facilitation of standards infrastructure development at the national and regional levels”.

So that on the local and regional front, there is recognition about the importance of standards. At a time when Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours continue to face difficult economic conditions, one question that comes to mind is: are they doing enough to explore the economic benefits of standardisation?

This is an issue that has been raised in Barbados repeatedly, including by the private sector. Specifically, concern has been raised about the inability of Barbadian producers to access international markets because of the absence of crucial sanitary and phytosanitary provisions. These are measures to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.

The issue was raised three years ago by Opposition spokesman Kerrie Symmonds while he was in the Senate. He said Barbados was missing out on millions of dollars in potential foreign exchange earnings because of Government’s failure to implement necessary legislation.

He asserted that Barbadians working in the production and processing of beef, chicken and fish continued to be barred from exporting their output to Europe because for five years the current administration had failed to implement the necessary sanitary and phytosanitary provisions.

“We have in Barbados a National Agricultural Health And Food Control Bill, but the ongoing issue since 2008 has been that you can’t get the legislation corrected so that you settle that which is required by the World Trade Organisation for either the Chief Agricultural Officer or a Chief Medical Officer to be the party that gives the seal of approval if we wish to export a protein from Barbados,” he said.

The required sanitary and phytosanitary measures are still not in place, which means that the island is not fully accessing its foreign exchange earning potential.

However, a month ago, Minister of Industry, Commerce and International Business Donville Inniss said efforts were on to rectify this. He said the Ministries of Industry, Agriculture and Health were addressing the issue including legislative changes and the establishment of the necessary laboratories.

In doing so producers, he said, would eventually find it easier to export to Europe. Barbados is also part of a regional effort being implemented by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) with funding from the European Union.

“The aim is to develop national action plans to implement the general components of the project, such as the modernisation of the legal framework for animal and plant health standards, the coordinated application of such measures at the national and regional levels, and capacity building in the countries,” said IICA spokesman Robert Ahern.

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