What do companies need to know about quality infrastructure?

SMEs need to be informed about the technical requirements

Exported goods are rejected repeatedly at foreign borders. Import rejections mean loss of revenue and generate considerable costs for the exporter due to the return or destruction of non-compliant goods. According to a study by UNIDO, these “export losses” cost companies several hundred million USD every year [1]. Especially for SMEs in developing countries, such rejections can threaten their existence.

This problem shows how important it is that SMEs, in particular, are informed about the technical requirements of export markets. Besides, the use of of metrology, standards, accreditation and conformity assessment, i.e. the quality infrastructure, helps saving costs, increasing productivity and stimulating innovation. In this way, entrepreneurs can learn to understand quality as an investment, not just a cost.


An essential source of information for SMEs in this area is the “Export Quality Management” (EQM) Guide. The International Trade Centre (ITC) of the United Nations and the WTO [2] published the first edition in 2001. The Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) joined in for the second edition with the title “Export Quality Management: A Guide for Small and Medium-sized Exporters” in 2011 [3]. In its 2nd edition, the Guide contains 95 questions and answers aiming at a better understanding of quality, technical requirements, management systems, conformity assessment, metrology, accreditation and the WTO Agreements on TBT and SPS. Readers learn, for example, what quality is or how to motivate employees to achieve better quality. At the same time, it explains, for example, the relationship between standards, technical regulations and sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Internationally renowned experts and practitioners have validated the relevance and correctness of questions and answers.

EQM Training

Beyond the publication, ITC and PTB have developed a training concept for “Export Quality Management” [3 and 4]. The target group of the two-day training of trainers (ToT) are Business Support Organisations (BSO) in developing countries. The training aims at creating awareness and enabling the transfer of knowledge on quality-related technical requirements for export to SMEs. The training and information activities in the field of quality infrastructure are action-oriented and thus go beyond the transfer of pure factual knowledge. After attending the EQM training, the participants should be able to:

  1. list the most critical market access requirements, and single out the prevailing standards and critical issues thereof for compliance,
  2. list potential services that their BSO can offer to support SMEs in this area and
  3. to refer SMEs to the most appropriate support institutions in the enabling environment for specific technical advice to help them to meet compliance criteria. [5]

Need for update

Almost a decade has passed since publishing the second edition. During this time, the world of quality management and quality infrastructure has further developed. Existing quality management standards have been upgraded to new versions. When it comes to the most well-known quality management standard, the version ISO 9001:2015 has replaced the previous version ISO 9001:2008. The latest version emphasises risk-based thinking and leadership commitment [7]. Besides, new management standards on Anti-Bribery (ISO 37001:2016) and Business Continuity (ISO 22301:2019) are offered. Today, areas such as health and the environment play an essential role in quality infrastructure beyond the traditional trade sector. We also note accelerated progress in the field of digitisation, which echoes under the concept of Quality Infrastructure 4.0.

Now it is time again for a new edition of the successful EQM Guide. An updated version could renew its role as a critical Guide for exporting SMEs in the field of quality management. At the same time, ITC and PTB could reflect on whether, in addition to the book, it could be sensible to develop an interactive digital EQM tool. Such a tool would facilitate more regular updates of its content and adapt to a continuously changing world of quality infrastructure.


[1] UNIDO (2015). Meeting Standards, Winning Markets – Trade Standards Compliance. Vienna

[2] ITC (2001). Export quality management: an answer book for small and medium-sized exporters. Geneva.

[3] ITC and PTB (2011). Export Quality Management: A Guide for Small and Medium-sized Exporters. Geneva, International Trade Centre, Geneva

[4] PTB, Export Quality Management, Website, Braunschweig

[5] PTB (2015). A bird’s eye view for small and medium-sized exporters, Braunschweig

[6] ITC, Export quality workshops, Website, Geneva

[7] Hunt, Lorri (2016). ISO 9001:2015 Key Changes. In: The Auditor

This entry was posted in ISO/IEC 9000, Quality Infrastructure, Quality Management, SME and tagged , , , , , , , , , by Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke

Dr Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke is a global expert in the field of international economic development cooperation. With more than 25 years of consulting experience, he is active in all phases of a project and program development (preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation) and collaborates with various implementing organizations and development banks (German Development Cooperation - GIZ and PTB -, Inter-American Development Bank, European Union and United Nations). He has consulting experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr.Harmes-Liedtke is an experienced trainer and process consultant. He works with groups and teams to reflect on their situation and to then formulate change projects to improve their reality. He enables dialogue, facilitates and designs workshops, processes, and sense-making processes. He is certified in facilitation, mediation, and communication techniques which allow him to deal with sensitive, diverse, and even conflict situations. He supports systemic economic development in various roles: • As an expert and trainer in international trade, national quality policies, industrial policy, clusters, and global value chains • As a process consultant in designing and leading diagnostic processes that result in change, adaptation, and improvement • As a facilitator of dialogue, workshops, training, and sense-making processes • As a transdisciplinary researcher in the field of systemic economic development Born 1965, Ph.D. in political science and economics (Bremen 1999), MA in economics (Diplom-Volkswirt) (Hamburg 1991). German nationality.

7 thoughts on “What do companies need to know about quality infrastructure?

    • Dear Elsie,

      I agree that you can convince an SME owner of quality management if you make that he or she understands quality as an investment.

      Companies need to be able to estimate the costs of non-quality. When a failure occurs in production and delivery, goods are rejected, or customers are disappointed, these costs are not always easy to see. Here, a company will need a Quality Management System (QMS) to make those cost-saving potentials visible.

      The EQM-Guide, therefore, contains various contributions to a cost-benefit analysis. During certification, the company incurs costs for establishing, setting up and obtaining certification. On the other hand, there are the benefits of a continuous improvement of the processes, which enables cost savings but also improves competitiveness.

      An essential task of the quality infrastructure institutions should be to bring such cost-benefit analysis closer to SMEs in particular.

      Kind regards,

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jo-Anne, if your organisation wants to participate or run an EQM training course, I recommend contacting the colleagues at ITC or PTB. Maybe there are international projects from these agencies in a country or region you can contact.
      In your specific case of the Caribbean, I will send you an email and put you in touch with the specific contact persons.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think the EQM Guide is an excellent reference tool as it compiles so much relevant information on one spot. As a consultant in private sector development I have often used it. However, I am not so sure whether SME owners or managers really make use of it. Therefore I fully agree with your suggestion to complement the Guide with an interactive and user-friendly tool.

    Liked by 2 people

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