Has Africa, and ARSO in particular, warmed up to the reality of the role of standardisation in addressing the two Agendas and their Targets, considering the crucial role of SMEs in attaining both the Agendas’ goals?

These goals, with their targets (the A2063 – 20 goals with 174 targets; SDGs- 17 goals with 169; the AfDB (AfDB – Hi5s 10-year strategy (2013-2022) broadly converge on social-political and human capital development, inclusive economic growth, peaceful societies, accountable institutions, and environmental sustainability dimensions, in which standardisation plays a key role, in ensuring the economies of scale, exposure to competition and the diffusion of technological knowledge. For this, Standards remain the invisible architecture and essential building blocks, of markets, manufacturing, technology, health care, Education and trade, and controls, entirely, the industries and every sector of life on a global scale. This is important for SMEs. Use of standards is connected to upgraded and modernized production, which improves SME competitiveness and signals higher quality, both of which are essential for cross-border trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). In Africa, SMEs  represents more than 90 % of businesses and employing about 60 % of workers, many of whom are women and youth (Fjose, Grunfeld, et al. 2010) and their role is particularly important, considering Africa’s high number of the young population, that stands at 40%  and the anticipation that more than 900 million new workers are expected to enter the labour market by 2050 (World Economic Forum et al., 2015). The African Union has initiated the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) Strategy and Master Plan 2017-2021. The Strategy aims, among others, at improving the continental business environment, increasing business formation, supporting formalization of growth-oriented informal enterprises and start-ups, increasing SME/Is, MSMEs and entrepreneurs’ participation in regional and global value chains and promoting innovative financing. ARSO initiated the Made in Africa Expo, as a means of addressing the barriers that restrict SMEs’ awareness on the benefit of standards, their use, and the need for SMEs participation in standards development. In the picture, ARSO President, Dr. Eve Gadzikwa visiting one of the stalls, during the Made in Africa Expo at Panari Hotel Nairobi, during the ARSO Week (17th – 21st June 2019) of the 25th ARSO General Assembly events, in Nairobi, Kenya. The Made in Africa Expo is held annually during the ARSO Week in June, with last year’s event held in Durban, South Africa at the ARSO Week/24th ARSO GA events, 18th – 24th June 2018.

Analysis and Highlights from the Desk of the ARSO Secretary General.

Understanding the Mandate of ARSO in the Context of Africa’s Trade performance as a catalyst of the implementation of the SDGs, A2063 and AfDB – Hi5s. Changing the Narrative and perspective of Standardisation in Africa to facilitate Trade and Sustainable Development. How are the standardisation Stakeholders and Institutions playing Active Role?

The increased reference to standardisation (and its attendant Compliance Infrastructure) in trade and economic policies and as a regulatory instrument and development tool, in Africa by Development Partners and Institutions, Political actors, Policy Makers, Economists and Industrialists, and the African Union in its Summit decisions, and the bold initiatives being undertaken by the standardisation stakeholders and Partners (Afreximbank, AfDB, UNECA, UNCTAD, USAID, JIKA, TMEA, UNIDO)  in Africa, such as the development of an African Quality Policy, are clear pointers on the future prospects of Africa in embracing standardisation as a Key Pillar in Africa’s sustainable Development, and the eminent role of ARSO. For Example: UNECA and the African Union have undertaken to emphasise on the responsibilities of the African countries on the need for effective Quality Infrastructure Since the Lagos Plan of Action 1980, Chapter VII, Trade and finance, Trade, Intra- African trade expansion, paragraph 250 (k and I), and Abuja Treaty of 1991 Establishing the African Economic Community, under Chapter XI on Standardization and Measurement Systems, Article 67 Chapter XI. The AU document on boosting intra-African trade and the establishment of a CFTA (AU 2012) highlights the responsibilities of the African countries and RECs in the AfCFTA Programme to Boost the Intra-African Trade imploring on them  “to appreciate and recognise the importance of standards, metrology, conformity assessment and accreditation, and to  harmonise their practices in this area to achieve mutual product recognition, while emphasising the need for cooperation and development and adoption of a common policy framework consistent with the provisions of the relevant WTO agreement.” At the 9th Ordinary Session of the AU Conference of Ministers of Trade (CAMoT) convened at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 4 to 5 December, 2014, the African Union called on ARSO and other Pan African Standards organisations to refer to the year 2017 as African year of Quality Infrastructure; increase awareness and mobilise all stakeholders on the role of Quality Infrastructure; and develop a Strategic Plan on Quality Infrastructure in Africa.

UNECA in its Economic Report of Africa 2015 highlights the importance of such institutions as PAQI (AFRAC, AFRIMETS, AFSEC, ARSO) in addressing the TBT issues, appreciating the fact that “stringent standards and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, due to Africa’s lack of quality-assurance and easily accessible standard setting and monitoring bodies, increase costs for African producers, particularly in developed country markets, highlighting the self-evident  need for a coordinated continental actions. The African Development Bank’s (AFDB 2019) African Economic Outlook projects Africa’s GDP growth to accelerate to 4.0 percent in 2019 and 4.1 percent in 2020 but only if there will be increased intra-African Trade spurred by growth of industrial activities and concerted efforts towards addressing the Technical Barriers to Trade (Standards and the associated Compliance systems) that have been a great hindrance to the free movement of Goods and services in Africa (AFDB 2019).

The UNCTAD (2015), the 2015 Economic Development in Africa Report on Unlocking the Potential of Africa´s Services Trade for Growth and Development cites the need for better regulation and policies (Ref. Quality Policy) to unleash the potential of Africa’s services economy and propel the continent as major global player in services trade, for sustainable Development. The World Bank (2013) highlights the need for improving quality assurance and management systems by firms, and better monitoring, evaluation, product testing and packaging methods to respond to changing technical requirements of Global trading partners and sustainable development. UNIDO (2016) is categorical that setting up a standardisation system, standards and related infrastructure for compliance (Quality Infrastructure System) is one of the most positive and practical steps that a developing nation (African countries) can take on the path forward to developing a thriving and sustainable economy as a basis for prosperity, health and well-being. USAID (2016) advices on the inclusion of the standardisation systems (metrology, accreditation, standards, certification, and quality (MAS-Q) in the development of economic policies as understanding the link between standardisation (MAS-Q) and global trade, industrialization and export competitiveness should be an integral part of economic development and trade policy.

UNCTAD (UNCTAD/ITE/TEB/2005/1) highlights the need for developing polies that address the standardisation needs and challenges of the SMES in Africa as with Globalization, the TBTs (e.g. regulations, product standards, testing and certification procedures), and sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and SPS (e.g. food safety and animal and plant health standards), pose  the greatest challenge to the SMEs in developing regions such as Africa in participating in regional and global value chains and accessing new markets, unlike the SMEs in the developed regions. As a policy instrument, the AfCFTA Agreement, under the TBT Annex 6 and SPS Annex 7, addresses the TBTs and SPS issues, and binds all State parties to commit to their progressive elimination and calls for cooperation in their development, harmonisation and implementation.

The chief principle mandate of ARSO is to address the challenges of the TBS through harmonisation of Standards and Conformity Assessment, and create greater awareness and capacity building on the challenge of the TBTS in Africa, to facilitate Intra -Africa Trade and Sustainable development in Africa. These Developments have taken place as ARSO continues to reposition itself to address the TBTs challenges in Africa highlighted above by the Trade and Policy Institutions

At the 25th ARSO General Assembly events, on June 20th, Dr. Eve Gadzikwa, handed over the ARSO Presidency (for the 2019-2022 term of office) to Mr. BOOTO à NGON Charles, who is also the Directeur General of Agence des Normes et de la Qualité (ANOR), Cameroon. Mr. Booto has been acting the ARSO President-Elect since June 2018, after his election by the 24th ARSO General Assembly in Durban on 20th June 2024. Previously he was the ARSO Vice President for the 2014-2016 Term of office. Mr. Booto, was for 5 years (2011-2015) the coordinator of the FAO/WHO Codex Committee for Africa, and the (CCAFRICA, Coordinator (2008-2010) of the Technical Cooperation Programme in the CEMAC sub-region on food safety.