The East African regional bloc is paying heavily through substandard imports as the process for implementation of harmonisation of regional quality standards moves at snails pace.
The process that is three years behind schedule is in line with the requirements of the East African Community (EAC) Standardization Quality Assurance, Metrology and Testing- SQMT Act of 2006.
Dr Mark Cyubahiro, the Director General Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) says that there is need to harmonise standards so as to curb the increase of counterfeit products especially from China.
“There is no way one country can fight substandard products without the help of other neighbours in the region because goods that are rejected in one country are re-exported to the other,” he said during a meeting with traders dealing in electrical materials in Kigali
He added that harmonising standards will help regional standards bodies to notify each other on products that have been tested to be substandard.
Moses Ssebunya, Principal Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) told Business Times that harmonisation of standards is an ongoing process that will be achieved and that over 1,000 standards have been harmonised.
He added that if standards are harmonised, member states will use the same tests and all goods bearing a quality mark from a member state will be allowed in the market of another state without going through other tests.
Cyubahiro said RBS impounded over 1,236 rolls of substandard electrical cables originating from China that are made of aluminium instead of copper in warehouses of Gikondo and hardware shops in Kigali in a crack down that aimed at curbing substandard cables that had recently hit the market.
Uwase R Marie, Director General of SICOK Ltd importers of electrical appliances said that many traders import substandard products to make higher profits while others cannot differentiate these (fake) products from genuine ones.
But Cyubahiro insists that many traders import these products aware that they are substandard and use the chance of porous borders and low technology for their goods to enter one country and even be re-exported to another.
He said that scanners are being used to test the contents in a container of goods at the borders but “cannot fully tell the quality of the goods in terms of standards”.
This move, according to trade experts, will make it more costly for pre-packaged products imported into the country, which must also comply with the standards in addition to the Certificate of Conformity (CoC) under the Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) programme.
“This is the only way we can shield our markets from substandard goods and also protect our industries from unfair market competition,” Nicholas Mukiza, a trade consultant said, adding that with the EAC Common Markets Protocol, many traders may take an advantage of re-packaging imported goods to evade taxes.
“We are planning to have a scheme where all imports entering the country are tested and their certificates of country of origin verified,” Sebunya said, adding that all products that do not meet the requirements should be re-exported to their country of origin.
Cyubahiro also notes that traders are asked to have a clear address of the manufacturer, certificate of the country of origin so as to easily trace back the manufacturer to re-export goods that do not conform to standards.