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African exports: The importance of Standardisation

Standardisation could be a key to an inter-connected Africa that is internationally harmonised. Trade under The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a free trade area agreement commencing in 2021, aims to create a single continent-wide market for goods and services. The AfCFTA intends to accelerate African trade enhancing its trading position in the international market while providing an equal playing ground for global trade negotiations. It is the largest free trade area since the development of the World Trade Organisation covering a market of 1.2 billion people. It also encompasses a Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) of $2.5 trillion across its 55 member states.

What is the export landscape in Africa currently?

Governments today are putting a great amount of effort into enhancing international trade. In South Africa, great importance is placed on increasing exports, particularly among SMMEs. This is highlighted in both the White Paper on Small Business Development and the Reconstruction and Development Programme. What this means is that South Africa as a whole must focus on new exports, cultivating existing exports, and reducing barriers to export success.

In comparison to other countries in the world, South Africa does not have a steady footing. South African SMME exporting is low. It is estimated that less than 3% of all South African SMMEs are exporters. This is marginal in comparison to Italy which sits at 80%, 56% in Taiwan, 37% in the United States, 14% in Canada, and 20% in the United Kingdom. In addition, South African SMMEs account for less than 1% of all export sales (Czubala, 2019).

What is the impact of harmonised standards on African exports?

Simply put, Standardisation gives organisations better brand equity and a fair chance in local and international markets. Standardisation shows that an effort has been made and a goal of improved performance has been set. It gives any organisation a competitive advantage and by standing out there is a higher chance of receiving local and international funding alongside benefits like winning tenders.

Managing Director of WWISE, Muhammad Ali, states that “how standards are developed is that the South African Bureau of Standards, the SABS who are the primary owners of the standards in South Africa, look at the need for Standards in South Africa derived in the country for consistency purposes with industry experts” He also says “experts [collaborate] voluntarily and discuss the best practice specifications for [each country] specifically”.

Locally, working towards standardisation also provides an opportunity to upskill locals with training. This is especially relevant when it comes to exports. Czubala (2019) states that “we find robust evidence that non-harmonised standards reduce African exports”. He says, “in addition, efforts to harmonise national standards with international norms promise concrete benefits through trade expansion”.

Standardisation also increases the success of trade expansion in multiple industries. It is relevant to know that “product standards may not be protectionist in intent or developed to directly affect trade. Instead, they may respond to legitimate concerns of consumers or producers relating to, for example, product quality or fitness for purpose. There is evidence moreover, that certain standards increase and expand trade opportunities in certain sectors” (Moenius, 2014).

In South Africa standardisation can accelerate growth as a developing country. Collier and Venables (2017) say that “international harmonisation of product standards may be an important complementary policy in support of recent efforts to extend more generous and easily accessible preferences to the developing world” (Collier and Venables, 2017).

What are some of the applicable standards?

While standards are industry-specific some apply to exports directly.

ISO 9001:2015

An example of a standard that applies to exports is ISO 9001:2015. It provides the guidelines and framework for developing a Quality Management System. Not only will this standard give an organisation an advantage in local and international markets it also enhances brand image by bringing product quality up to international standards. What else can ISO 9001:2015 do?

  • It achieves Continuous Improvement through the implementation of industry best practices. This enhances product quality.
  • All divisions of a company like sourcing, operations, procurement, and manufacturing benefit insofar as only products and services that are compliant with this international standard are delivered by an organisation.
  • Products and services can compete in local and international markets.
  • Standardisation, and subsequently quality control, ensure customer safety and satisfaction.
ISO 14001:2015

ISO 14001:2015 sets out the requirements for an environmental management system. It includes the policies, plans, records, and processes that define the rules around how an organisation interacts with the environment. It requires organisations to consider the environmental impact of their operations and includes things like waste management and air pollution management. When it comes to exports, having an ISO 14001:2015 certification demonstrates that:

  • An organisation complies with current and future statutory and regulatory requirements on environmental protection.
  • There is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage above organisations that do not comply with the standard.
  • The organisation’s internal system is integrated with stakeholders to encourage better environmental performance.
  • There will be boosted stakeholder trust and increased revenue.
ISO 45001:2018

ISO 45001:2018 is an Occupational Health and Safety Management System that consists of a framework for managing health risks and safety standards. With the key focus on reducing workplace incidents, the standard is essential in any size organisation. In the export industry, a large percentage of businesses have manufacturing units and warehouses and could use ISO 45001:2018 to reduce any unprecedented incidents and enhance worker safety. Some key benefits of implementing ISO 45001:2018 include:

  • Workplace injury and disease are reduced.
  • Safety hazards are identified before they become accidents.
  • Stakeholder confidence is boosted because organisations can demonstrate their commitment to keeping people safe.
  • Lower injuries in the workplace mean increased productivity.
How does an organisation become ISO certified?

In short – with WWISE. We have a range of professionals who are registered lead auditors who will assist in the implementation and maintenance of any ISO Management System. A good Consultant understands the processes employed by your company and how best to approach the implementation of the ISO requirements.

WWISE has a 4-Phase Approach:

  • Phase 1: Gap Analysis Audit and information gathering.
  • Phase 2: ISO Documentation, Risk Assessment, and Process Mapping.
  • Phase 3: Implementation and Coaching.
  • Phase 4: Certification.

We offer one-on-one coaching and on-the-job training where we mentor you and your team. As a consulting firm, we do not provide certification services. However, we will guide you through the certification process and ensure that your business becomes certified. For more information on how you can benefit your business with ISO standards, contact WWISE on 08610 99473 or visit https://www.wwise.co.za