The second national dialogue on quality infrastructure (QI) came off in Antigua last month, providing the Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards (ABBS) and local officials with a clear picture of the state of the agriculture sector as relates quality and standards.

Held at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium on November 13, 2014, Director of the ABBS, Mrs. Dianne Lalla-Rodrigues, welcomed participants to the forum, while Officer-in-Charge of the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality, Russell Frankly, gave a brief overview of the organisation’s role as facilitators, and its relationship with the German Metrology Institute (PTB), which is the sponsor of the RQI 4 and 10th EDF Technical Barriers to Trade projects.

Mr. Franklyn outlined the importance of the quality infrastructure dialogue, as well as the role of agriculture in the region’s survival.  He highlighted that in Antigua trade in agricultural goods was 2% - the lowest in the region, and that 62% of that country’s GDP was made up by services. Notwithstanding, there is potential for agriculture and agro-processed goods, he stated, adding that the quality of goods was preventing the region from getting into certain markets.

The acting head of CROSQ also indicated that Quality Infrastructure consultations would be held throughout the region with the intention of creating an action plan to address the region’s QI issues. The first consultation was held in Bahamas in October.

The Director of Agriculture, Mr. Jedidiah Maxime stressed that quality and standards are used to meet buyer requirements in countries where economies rely on exports. Antigua and Barbuda is a net importer and traditionally has not place much importance on standards.  However, the changing global dynamics has resulted in the country becoming an exporter in tourism-related areas, he pointed out.

Mr. Maxime added that quality and standards must not only be an issue of exports but national pride. He noted that a food production policy has been adopted by the Antigua and Barbuda government and an action plan is being developed to implement the policy.

Additionally, the Director indicated that the Ministry of Agriculture is collaborating with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to look into setting up a national commission for sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) areas. One objective of this is to champion issues relating to SPS which have to be adhered to. Issues, particularly those at the level of production, including record keeping, food safety issues and the adaptation of farmers to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), were identified as critical.

Senator Collin James, Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, Commerce and Industry and Sports, highlighted reasons for requirements in trade such as food safety, environment and health. He stated that there was a need for technical assistance to small countries in relation to technical barriers to trade and SPS in conformity, which was necessary to access markets.

QI allows a country to meet requirement of markets to build clients and consumer confidence, hence collaboration with PTB to strengthen QI institution, as well as the QI dialogue workshops which will increase awareness of the private sector in quality. A deliverable is the action plan to allow the bureau to be more responsive to the needs of its client.

The technical working session began with ‘Putting QI Dialogue Forum into Context’, where Ms. Julie-Ann Laudat gave the contextual framework within which the exercises will be completed. Antigua and Barbuda Food and Nutrition Security Policy focuses on increasing production and potential which will result in the potential to export increasing. As the potential to export increases, Antigua and Barbuda has to meet international Standards and Quality.

 

Ms Laudat also mentioned challenges which affect production – such as lack of trained staff, lack of lab facilities and the need for technical regulations and standards. Other breaks out sessions included the ‘Prioritization of the QI Services Needed to Meet the Needs of the Agricultural Sector’.

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The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) has adopted two regional standards – both of which have been in development for a number of years.

The region now has a common Specification for Cement, and a Code of Practice for Organic Production and Processes, both of which have been hailed as major developments by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ).

“We’ve had a number of problems with trading of cement in the region of late, and so CARICOM through the COTED requested that a regional standard be developed for cement. The standard has been under development from as far back as 2007 and we finally got consensus throughout the Member States for the adoption of the regional cement standard,” said CROSQ’s Technical Officer – Standards, Mr. Fulgence St. Prix.

He noted though that because standards by nature are voluntary, he hoped that Member States would now put the necessary legislative framework in place to cause mandatory adoption of the standard which would cause all cement traded within the community to meet the requirements of this regional standard.

“In other words, we are looking to see if it can be the subject of a technical regulation and if that is the case then it means that no cement not meeting that standard will be able to enter any of the Member States. That is the intention.”

This issue is historic, not only because of the length of time it has taken to get to this point, but because of the methodology involved in its development.

“The standards development process calls for consensus and it was challenging in the sense that you have Member States using different standards. For instance, in Suriname and Haiti the standards they would have used to produce cement would have been based on the European standard, and the other Member States would have been using the ASTM Standards. So you needed to get some form of equivalence between the two standards and that is where we had the challenge, being able to strike a balance between the two standards. Although you might have similarities between the two standards, the European Standard and the ASTM standard, you would have to establish equivalence because they were more or less not the same.

“What we did to overcome the challenges, we adopted a new modality in terms of the standards development – first time we have ever done that – where we just referenced those international standards to be used. So cement conforming to those international standards would have been deemed to conform to that regional standard, and thus we would have been able to take care of the manufacturers who use the European standards and the ASTM standards.”

The technical officer said with this new approach, the possibility existed for this modality to be used in future standards’ development, further expressing thanks to the technical officers of the numerous national standards bureaus, as well as their directors, who worked to get the standard approved.

“The other standard we got acceptance for was a Code of Practice for Organic Production and Processes. It was part of an IDB SME project where the industry was asking for a code of practice because organic production is something new in the region and people are recognising  the immense opportunity in that area.”

The standard, which is based on the CODEX Alimentarius standard code of practice for organic foods, went through numerous revisions from as far back as 2009 to encompass organic food production and the processes as well.

Mr. St. Prix noted: “I know a number of the Member States do have an organic farming community and associations and they are all affiliated to the international organic farming community. So we did have an international organic organisation commenting on the standard and making their input on the standard. So we feel happy about that because at the end of the day it means that it will be accepted by the international community as well.”

It is hoped now that this code of practice can be used by the farming communities in Member States as a tool for certification.

 

“It also means that an organic production and processes certification can be developed using that standard. What we need to do now is develop further relationships with a certification body which offers certification of these products. We are hoping we can do it regionally and I know Jamaica was very interested in going that way in establishing a certification scheme and I will recommend that we work alongside them to develop a regional organic production and processes certification scheme, where the certification can be provided by regional certification bodies who are working towards international recognition. So once the certification bodies have attained the requisite international recognition we could soon have our organic products be on the world market thereby providing much needed income to our farmers and our economies by extension,” Mr. St. Prix concluded.

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Antigua and Barbuda this week moved one step closer to upgrading the quality infrastructure for the Jams and Jellies Value Chain, using the CALIDENA process.

A follow-up CALIDENA workshop, hosted by The Antigua & Barbuda Bureau of Standards (ABBS), in collaboration with the German Metrology Institute (PTB) and the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ), was hosted on November 12, 2014 at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Grounds. It was attended by stakeholders in the various links of the value chains.

The CALIDENA process under the CROSQ-implemented and PTB-funded project – Establishment of a Demand-Oriented and Regionally Harmonized Quality Infrastructure in the Caribbean (RQI4), has been focussed on improving the quality infrastructure in agriculture-related value chains among the CROSQ Member States. The term “value chain” is based on the concept that the value of a product is created at various stages in production, and looks at all these steps from creation to market, to human resources, research and development, as well as the relationships behind the companies involved in developing the product.

The value chain analysis in Antigua began in February this year, with the CALIDENA Diagnostic Workshopa – usually the first step in the process. A rapid diagnosis was conducted on the jam and jellies sector in relation to quality infrastructure negatively affecting competitiveness of the sector. An action plan was developed which detailed the strategies to be undertaken to address the identified issues, the strategies that would be implemented and how, the time frame and the responsible parties. An action plan committee was also set up to oversee its implementation.

The November 12 workshop opened with welcome remarks by Mrs. Diane Lalla-Rodrigues who explained the link of the current activity with the previous workshop. This was followed by comments by Ms Janice Hilaire, project coordinator of the RQI 4 Project being. Ms Hilaire explained briefly the objectives of CALIDENA, and explained that the follow-up workshop was one component in a process designed and implemented to make the goods in the region more competitive and attractive to buyers.

A quick update was given on the progress of the action plan. Seven (7) strategies were detailed in the Action Plan including:

·         Food and safety systems improved at the company level.

·         Upgrade in ability of analytical labs at the Bureau of Standards to perform food analyses

·         Request for national standards for jams and jellies

·         Technical regulations for labeling

Ms Julie-Ann Laudat, the local CALIDENA facilitator, introduced the next activity by informing participants of the general objectives of the CALIDENA process and its relevance to the jams and jellies value chain. The overarching aim is to strengthen the quality infrastructure for the Jams and Jellies Value Chain in Antigua and Barbuda. The specific objectives, “elaborate and agree on amendments to the Action Plan to upgrade the quality infrastructure for the Jams and Jellies Value Chain.” An additional specific objective is to, “improve the understanding of agro-processors of the requirements of Good Manufacturing Practices”.

During this workshop, participants were formed into groups in order to assess the action plan and to broaden and/or deepen the diagnostic and if necessary to determine if new activities are to be added.

The final activity of the workshop was a presentation of Good Management Practices which looked at guidelines in pre-operation and operation procedures. The guidelines included storage and transportation, establishment and design of facilities, buildings for pre-operation; and control of food hazards, food additives, labelling and accuracy for operation.

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The countries of the Caribbean region are too small to be followers of world trade. What they must become are creators of standards that will benefit them on the international stage.

Trade Advisor with the Ministry of Commerce in St. Lucia, Mr. McDonald Dixon, made this observation as the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards (SLBS) celebrated World Standards Day on Tuesday with a Staff and Technical Committee Awards ceremony.

We are too small to follow the dictates of others, geared towards the fulfillment of aspirations not of our own making. Therefore it is timely for us not only as a country, but also as a sub-region, the OECS, to begin formulating standards that will satisfy the needs of our people,in the broad areas of health and safety and in specific fields such as security, environment and the elimination of corruption and deceptive practices.

“We must design technical regulations that guarantee the integrity of what we eat, the air we breathe and the water in which we bathe. No longer should we allow our large international trading partners to continue to dump inferior meats and foodstuff into our small markets with impunity, and when we seek to take action they are quick to point out that our measures are not in tandem with international regulations,” said Mr. Dixon.

The trade advisor added: “We must also seek to achieve in whatever we do, technical harmonization with other OECS member states and also within the larger CARICOM Community. We cannot compromise on quality or arrive at positions that can distort our efforts at trade facilitation. I know that the prescription is complex, but since when has there been a modicum of fairness in trade and commerce without some good sweat?”

Determined to not just focus on the problems without offering solutions, Mr. Dixon noted that the “education of civil society in the use of standards” would be key in the procurement of superior goods and services.

“Too often we forget that the main purpose for standards, regulations or measures is to improve the way of life our citizens. But the only way there can be appreciation is when benefits can be clearly enumerated and the people they are intended to assist or protect understand their purpose.”

He congratulated the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards on its awards, singling out those who work behind the scene to contribute to the development of standards in any way.

 

The Bureau concluded its week of activities with a bakers’ workshop at the Coco Palm Hotel on Thursday, followed by presentations today to the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.

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Conformity assessment was the recent focus of three intensive days of activities in St. Kitts and Nevis, when the St. Kitts & Nevis Bureau of Standards, together with the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards & Quality (CROSQ), hosted a national meeting and a three-day workshop.

The half-day national meeting held in the Conference Room of the Department of Agriculture, La Guerite, was attended by approximately 30 stakeholders, and was addressed by Acting Executive Director of the SKNBS, Mr. Hiram Williams; Technical Officer – Accreditation & Conformity Assessment, CROSQ, Mr. Trumel Redmond; and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Mr. Charleton Edwards.

In welcoming participants to the meeting and workshop, Mr. Williams indicated, “It is timely for us to have this National Meeting and Workshop that will provide participants with an awareness and understanding of the benefits of conformity assessment systems for facilitating trade.”

He further encouraged persons to “take advantage and make the best use of the training activities that are designed to make them more efficient and competitive in the delivery of their products and services”. He also acknowledged the support of Mr. Edwards, and the Hon. Richard Skerritt, Minister of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Conformity assessment is the process used to demonstrate that a product, process, person, service or body fulfils identified requirements. Mr. Redmond indicated that, “Conformity assessment is necessary to ensure products perform the way we expect them to perform. It ensures services are carried out by qualified, competent, reliable persons or organisations and that products are safe and fit for purpose.”

 “As one of the implementing partners of the Technical Barriers to Trade project of the 10th European Development Fund programme, CROSQ is seeking the involvement of stakeholders in the development of a regional certification and wider conformity assessment framework,” he added.

The meeting gave participants an opportunity to provide input for the development of the framework, and heartened by the keen interest shown by participants, Mr. Edwards encouraged those participating in the workshop to ensure that what was learnt at the workshop would be used for positive development of the economy.

He said, “We ought to ensure that we continue to maintain the momentum that we have achieved to date with respect to manufacturing but there are other areas we want to see some further development. We need to ensure that there is continued growth, continued increase in competitiveness because the global economy is no longer a small economy but therefore the global economy is our economy and we must be able to participate and make sure that we can benefit from globalization and don’t be afraid of globalization.”

The three-day workshop from October 8 to 10, focussed on the ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO 15189 standards which provide requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, and medical laboratories respectively.

Participants included representatives from the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs, Nevis; Department of Agriculture, Nevis; veterinary services; Fahies Agricultural Women’s Cooperative Society; Environmental Health Department; St. Kitts Dairies Ltd.; CFB College; Ross University; University of Medicine and Health Sciences; Department of Coops; Sun Island Clothes; Kajola-Kristada Ltd.; and the St. Kitts and Nevis Bureau of Standards.

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While diagnosing quality infrastructure issues which exist in the value chains for nutmeg and its distribution, stakeholders in the nutmeg sector in Grenada recently got some needed feedback on what is being done correctly and tips on what needs to be done to create better products for export.

The CALIDENA diagnostic workshop, held in Grenada from September 24 to 26, tackled a number of areas critical to the nutmeg value chain. The term “value chain” is based on the concept that the value of a product is created at various stages in production, and looks at all these steps from creation to market, to human resources, research and development, as well as the relationships behind the companies involved in developing the product. CALIDENA is a component of the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ)-implemented, and the National Metrology Institute of Germany, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt –PTB funded, Establishment of a Demand-Oriented and Regionally Harmonized Quality Infrastructure in the Caribbean Project, more commonly known as the RQI4.

Grenada’s CALIDENA consultant, Dr. Guido Marcelle, as part of the workshop, facilitated a Skype call with Shashi Foods, a Canadian buyer of cracked nutmeg, who noted that the low aflatoxin was one of the reasons that country’s product is preferred. Aflaxotin refers to any of a variety of certain toxins found in some plants and products naturally. The buyers also expressed satisfaction with the product, but noted that shipping was too slow.

“Proper weight, not too much granules, and cleanliness” were identified as requirements for Grenadian exporters, and it was noted that samples of the products were currently tested in an accredited laboratory in New York before shipment and on arrival.

The buyers, Mr. A. J. Shah and his brother, indicated they found the price of nutmeg in Grenada favourable and were comfortably able to resell, even though they found the quantities too small. The nutmeg mainly went to bakeries and for use in seasonings, the buyer said, but also commented on what he said was the declining oil content in the product over the past year, which might be a result of smaller pieces of nutmeg being shipped.

Mr. Shah said they had visited and conducted audits of places where they could source nutmeg in Grenada, following which participants requested a quota from the buyer of how much product they could reasonably take so the farmers could prepare in the short and long term. The buyer said they were contracted to receive six containers from the GCNA, but were prepared to take more if available.

Mr. Simeon Collins, outgoing Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standard, in his presentation on "QI in a Small Island State", suggested that even though small islands were disadvantaged because of their size in comparison to their competitors, buyers still expect the same quality. One of the major difficulties he listed is that because the states are small they do not have the necessary funds to facilitate all aspects of the QI. He stated that the function of standardization, conformity assessment and metrology were usually done by the same institution.

On day two, the participants in the workshop took to the fields for a visit to a nutmeg farm in Mt. Granby, and a nutmeg processing plant in Gouyave.

The following and final day of the CALIDENA workshop, participants were split into four groups to examine the relative standards in Grenada and CARICOM, in North America, Europe and finally the requirements for organic exportation of nutmeg or mace.

With every CALIDENA workshop, one of the objectives is to come up with an action plan, and the final day saw the creation of a plan for Grenada surrounding the documentation for the workshop, information for decision-makers, and an overall follow-up of a number of areas identified for improvement. Among areas selected were: the development of guidelines, eg. Good Agricultural Practices; adaptation of regional standard for organically produced products; the revision by Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association of the handbook dealing with processing of nutmeg; standards-based training for farmers in the processing of fruit; and, training for laboratory technicians in the area of medicinal and cosmetics.

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