Barbados and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states are being warned that now is not the time to “slack” on investment in quality and standards, even as they seek to cut back on spending as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This advice has come from Chief Executive Officer of the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) Deryck Omar, who said coming out of the pandemic, countries should learn several lessons as it relates to quality and standards.
He was speaking with journalists during a virtual media sensitization session on the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Technical Barriers to Trade Programme on Tuesday.
Pointing out that quality institutions have played a vital role in the region’s capacity to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Omar said the EU-funded technical barriers to trade programme would enable CROSQ and other institutions to do more.
“If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us, is that now is not the time to slack on quality. Whether it be at the adoption and implementation of standards, the upgrading of measurement infrastructure systems, and especially the improvement of capacity of our laboratories, quality inspection agencies and conformity assessment bodies,” said Omar.
He strongly advised against a reduction or withdrawal of investment in the public and private institutional framework needed to implement standardisation, accreditation and conformity assessment services.
“Yeah, you will pull back on maintenance, you will pull back on training and capacity development of individuals, but resist the temptation to disinvest in your laboratories, to disinvest in your quality inspectorate. Now is not the time for that. You need those elements very strong to protect the health and safety aspects of your people,” Omar added.
The €4.5 million (US$5.3 million) programme, which is being implemented in CARIFORUM by CROSQ in association with the Dominican Republic Institute for Quality (INDOCAL), is being managed by the German National Metrology Institute.
It was launched at the beginning of this year, and is intended to, among other things, assist CARIFORUM states in closing gaps related to quality and standards; improving and promoting quality infrastructure; providing training in several related areas; strengthening of regional framework in standards development, metrology, accreditation, conformity, assessment and awareness.
Omar said before the pandemic, which started to affect CARIFORUM states in March of this year, there was a noticeably heavy focus by national bureaus on helping companies improve the quality competitiveness of their products and services.
However, he said, “what COVID-19 reminded us all about is the health and safety aspects of our quality standards, to accentuate that and not only focus on the economics of our world but the social development aspects of it.
“In a COVID-19 environment where people are very price conscious, companies cannot afford to make a mistake in quality because one mistake in quality, especially in the health and safety area, could make the market move away from you.”
Omar added: “The second part of our discovery is that a lot of member states now want to open up new economic sectors. They now need to diversify but . . . you cannot go into new economic areas unless you carry quality infrastructure to underpin what are the standards of performance, what are the new measurement infrastructures we need to introduce and, finally, who is going to certify quality in those new industries. So, as much as countries want to go into new economic areas, they must invest in quality infrastructure to diversify their economy.”
David Tomlinson, Technical Officer of Metrology at CROSQ, said the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for that organisation and other national standards and quality bureaus to train some technical officers in specialised areas, since international experts were having some challenges travelling due to the pandemic.
“So how do we get some of the knowledge moved from these experts to our region? What we have been able to do is partner them with technical people in our region . . . and train them in the key areas to serve our region. So we have been implementing a lot of our consultancies using experts in country,” he said.
“Normally, in planning for this project, for example, we might have planned to bring in somebody from Germany, but we now have that person partner with a local person we selected through a competitive process. They train them and then they oversee that on our behalf. It has allowed us to develop capacity. That is a big plus for us,” Tomlinson added. [email protected]