On July 1, 2018, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) began implementing mandatory certification for all products covered by compulsory standards.
The UNBS opted for mandatory certification in the new regulation as part of its continued efforts to safeguard public health, safety, and the environment from products that do not meet special standards.
Products covered by compulsory standards are those that are likely to compromise the health and safety of consumers and also have a negative impact on the environment.
Under the new regulation: “Use Distinctive Mark Regulations, 2018”, all products that are covered by compulsory standards must be certified with the UNBS distinctive mark (Q-Mark) before they are allowed on the market. Such products include foods, drinks, electronics, cosmetics, steel products and cement, confectioneries (bread and biscuits), apiary and mattresses, among others.
Previously, certification of products was done on voluntary basis. However, with the coming into force of the new regulations, all affected products are expected to comply.
To-date, UNBS has developed more than 3,000 standards, of which about 1,300 are compulsory standards covered by the new regulation. The standards can be accessed on the UNBS webstore: https://webstore.unbs.go.ug.
To ensure compliance to the new regulations, UNBS has embarked on a mass sensitization campaign to register all micro and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) involved in production of products covered by compulsory standards. Companies already on the UNBS certification scheme will be automatically registered.
The sensitization campaign is being carried out in partnership with Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), Uganda Small-Scale Industries Association (USSIA) and other sector-specific associations such as The Uganda National Apiculture Development Organization (TUNADO), among others. It is expected that by December 2018, all affected companies will have complied with the new regulation.
To be certified, a product will have to undergo conformity assessments that include product testing, and auditing production systems to ensure that they meet standards for good hygienic and manufacturing practices. All complying products will be issued with UNBS distinctive mark (Q-Mark).
Once the products have been certified, they will be kept in a database of certified products with continuous monitoring and periodic audits to ensure that the products still meet the standards.
This is done through routine inspections where UNBS inspectors pick routine samples from the market and voluntary submission of samples from manufacturers to UNBS for further analysis.
So, why is product certification so important? The distinctive mark is an assurance to the consumer that the product meets quality and safety standards and, therefore, is safe for consumption or its use.
It gives consumers confidence that a product will perform according to its desired qualities and, therefore, offer value for money. It can be used to make purchase decisions including government procurement.
Manufacturers and producers can use the UNBS distinctive mark to demonstrate to consumers that their products meet requirements for specific product standard. Besides fulfilling regulatory requirements, it makes products widely acceptable in the market, thus giving such products competitive advantage.
Certified products can easily access regional and international markets as a result of harmonized standards and mutual recognition of distinctive marks issued by respective national standards agencies, thereby boosting Uganda’s export earnings and contributing positively to its balance of payment.
The main advantage of mutual recognition of distinctive marks is that exporters do not have to undergo multiple testing and certification of products, thus reducing the cost doing business and eliminating trade barriers.
For instance, products with UNBS distinctive mark can access international markets within EAC. With the signing of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), such products should be able to also access all markets in Africa under the FTA.
A recent study by the East African Business Council (EABC) revealed that intra-regional trade increased by 18 per cent from $291.2 million to $343 million between 2010 and 2016 as a result of harmonizing standards in the East African Community (EAC).
The writer is head of public relations at Uganda National Bureau of Standards.