World Accreditation Day: Celebrating the 'hidden heroes' of international trade

Thu 8 Jun 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Digital map being held in someone's hand

Tomorrow (9 June) is World Accreditation Day and this year’s theme for the annual celebration is how standards and accreditation have a key role to play in supporting the future of global trade.

While often forgotten amidst the flurry of news on trade deals, tariffs and border checks, the process of accreditation is a hidden force that keeps goods and services flowing internationally in a compliant manner.

It does this by supporting an important factor in any trade transaction: trust.

What is accreditation?

Accreditation, put simply, is the process by which a third party can demonstrate that they or their products meet certain standards set by an industry, body or government.

For many goods – ranging from food and drink to highly complex chemicals – having proof that they have met one set of standards reduces the need for duplicate checks when selling internationally.

The International Accreditation Forum (IAF), an umbrella group for almost 100 bodies across the world, gives the example of an electronics manufacturer in Spain looking to export goods to Australia.

The Australian accreditation body had a mutual recognition agreement with its counterpart in Spain and used this to recognise the Spanish certificate as valid in Australia, enabling the goods to be exported without any additional testing or paper and, crucially, avoiding additional cost.

Ximena Florian, customs consultant at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) academy, explained:

It is key to have an accreditation system that assures traders in markets as distant as China, Argentina, and Turkey that the goods they are trading meet the required standards.

“To expand your business into international markets, meeting industry standards is crucial. Holding a certification that confirms your goods meet safety and security criteria established by the respective industry sector provides formal assurance of their quality and reliability. This accreditation opens doors for your business in new markets.

“After obtaining sector accreditation in one market, you will find the homologation process easier to navigate in another market. This can lead to reduced costs when trying to enter new markets.".”

‘Basis of trust’

Accordingly, many who work in accreditation describe the industry as being a crucial cog in international supply chains.

“The use of international standards and accredited conformity assessment is the basis of trust in products and services that are traded across borders,” says Ben Hedley, senior programme manager at the British Standards Institution (BSI).

As such, Hedley says that “international standards are a vital tool in ensuring products and services are interoperable and compatible across borders, removing barriers to trade, reducing production and supply chain costs and building confidence in business services and protecting consumers.”

Growth and productivity

According to a 2022 study by the BSI, a 4.3% yearly increase in new standards resulted in a boost to exports of 0.8% per annum. After five years, this represents an increase valued at £5.4bn a year.

Domestically, 23% of all UK GDP growth and 38% of all productivity growth since 2000 is attributable to the impact of standards.  Accordingly, the BSI estimates that standards have boosted the UK’s annual GDP by £161bn the turn of the millennia.

’Hidden heroes’ of commerce

At a recent event celebrating International Accreditation Day, hosted in the House of Lords by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) and supported by IOE&IT and BSI, Hanane Taidi, director general of the TIC Council, described accreditation professionals as the “hidden heroes” of global trade.

“Whether they are access engineers, whether they are scientists in their labs, these people have a common purpose.

“They work to help ensure the safety of the food we eat, the goods we buy, the digital connections we make and the clothes we wear. In a nutshell, they make the world that we’re living in a safer and more secure place.”

Lord Jamie Lindsay, the chair of UKAS, echoed this call, stating that policies crucial to global security and economic prosperity, like the transition to Net Zero or many emerging technologies, depend on the accreditation process.

He added that “it is crucial that markets, consumers and regulators have confidence in the quality of goods and services that are imported and exported.”

“Accreditation supports this confidence, building trust that testing, inspection and certification are carried out competently, independently and according to recognised international standards.”

Supply chain security

Mike Tims, CEO of assessment and safety company AMTIVO, agrees with this sentiment.

“Global supply chains need to rely on a common set of standards, which is what accreditation helps with,” he said.

“You need to maintain the quality of those standards across the world. You have bodies like UKAS or ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) in the US that uphold standards.

“The complex thing is that you need to make sure these independent bodies operate consistently across the world.”

What next?

Accreditation is almost certain to remain a crucial issue in international trade, as the UK expands its post-Brexit trade network to new markets.

UK-based organisations, like BSI and UKAS, are still playing leading roles in setting standards internationally avoiding regulatory divergence in an increasingly contentious trading landscape.

Even in times of complex geopolitics and a slowdown in global trade growth, accredited standards certificates from well-respected bodies are still being accepted internationally.

Gold standard

It is good news for traders that bodies like UKAS are recognised globally, with a mark from the organisation being seen as a “gold standard”, according to Tims.

“It’s going to be respected anywhere in the world basically. Maybe if you export to the US, ANAB would be just as good. But the most exported certificate around the world is UKAS.”

Hedley says that the role of standards will remain important as they make sure that all parties in a business transaction are following the same good practice for technical regulations and avoiding any “bilateral trade friction”.

He said:

“This applies as much to innovative sectors such as digital and sustainability as much as it applies to traditional manufacturing sectors.

“As far as the UK is concerned, it is vital to ensure that new trade deals agree a common definition of international standard which enables reciprocal market access while preserving the UK’s open and pro-innovation regulatory model.”