Reform of the quality law in Costa Rica

Central American success model

Costa Rica is a small, innovative country in Central America. Long ago, the government decided to abstain from having an army and instead invested in environmental protection and technological innovation.[1] Costa Rica has evolved from a developing country to an industrialised economy. In May 2020, it became the 38thmember of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). [2]

Costa Rica’s Quality Law

Costa Rica is a pioneer in the area of quality infrastructure in Central America. In a previous blog post, we have presented its national quality law as a good practice example, https://qi4d.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/the-national-quality-law-of-costa-rica/.

The Quality Law No. 8279 enacted in 2002 laid the foundations for an articulated National Quality System.[3] Under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce (MEIC), a system of four institutions was created, each of which is responsible for a specific area of quality infrastructure:

  • The Costa Rican Metrology Laboratory (LACOMET; today LCM) is a public institution affiliated to the MEIC, and is responsible for industrial and legal metrology.
  • The National Standards Institute’s function is defined so that a non-profit private association can take over this role. Currently, this function falls on the Technical Standards Institute of Costa Rica (INTECO). INTECO is simultaneously acting as a private-sector certification body and competes with other certification bodies in its home market and internationally. 
  • As stipulated by the 2002 law, the non-state public entity and autonomous National Accreditation Body (ECA) has started operation, reporting to the Ministry of Science and Technology 
  • The Coordination Unit for Technical Regulations (ORT) within MEIC.

The institutional arrangement of the National Quality System in Costa Rica has proven to be functional. However, over time, some gaps in the current law have become apparent. Prevalent issues are inadequate coordination among the units in the system and ambiguities in financing the institutions. Simultaneously, the demand for quality infrastructure services in health, food safety, consumer protection, and public procurement also increased. As a consequence, the need for a legal reform arose.

Legal Reform Proposal

In March 2020, the Minister of Economy, Victoria Hernandez Mora, presented a comprehensive amendment of the National Quality Law.[4] The structure follows the previous law, but the number of articles increased from fifty (50) to eighty-one (81).[5]

The initiative for the legislative reform originated from the MEIC and the public and private sector institutions represented in the National Quality Council (CONAC) as well as academia support the project.

In the following, we summarise the key novelties:

The Ministry of Economy, Industry and Trade is in charge of the National Quality System (article 4).

The legal reform project defines the national quality system in twenty-nine binding terms (Article 3). This is helpful as the terminology of quality infrastructure is different from other disciplines. However, it is interesting that the term “quality infrastructure” itself is not used throughout the document. In Costa Rica, they prefer to talk about the National Quality System (NQS).

The reform project states five principles (harmonisation, no trade barriers, participation, transparency and impartiality) of the National Quality System (article 7). There are an inevitable overlap and a discrepancy with the quality guiding principles (Coherence, Ownership, Inclusiveness, Optimisation and Sustainability) as recommended by UNIDO.[6] Nevertheless, it is striking that the reform project is predominantly committed to competitiveness, while environmental and social sustainability are not explicitly addressed as goals.

The bill strengthens the National Quality System in financial and technical terms. It emphasises the state’s responsibility to provide the necessary financial resources for the system’s functioning (article 8). Regarding the National Quality Council (CONAC), which convenes various ministries, representatives of business associations and chambers of commerce, universities and consumers, the project establishes a committee to provide technical support to the Council and strengthen its operationality (article 11). The legislative project also defines a National Quality Policy, coordinated by CONAC (article 12). CONAC’s Technical Committee is responsible for the development of a National Quality Plan.

The National Metrology Institute changes its acronym to LCM (article 14). Besides, its functions in scientific metrology are strengthened. LCM upgrades its competences to guarantee measurement traceability in health, safety and environment and develop measurement related technical regulations.

The draft law expands the competences of the accreditation body (article 25 following). At the same time, the management is streamlined to allow for greater agility and flexibility. The role of accreditation for conformity assessment in the legal area is becoming stronger.

The National Quality System extends its competence in the field of technical regulations and market surveillance. The MEIC is responsible for the development, update and follow-up of technical regulations, including the implementation of Codex Alimentarius standards. A National Council for Technical Regulations (CONART) is created within the NQS to recommend the government to adopt, update, or cancel technical regulations (article 49 following). The ministries of agriculture and livestock, health, environment and energy, public works and transport, foreign trade and science, technology, and telecommunications work together in CONART under the Ministry of Commerce’s leadership.

The law reform integrates market surveillance into the National Quality System. In this context, conformity assessment service providers in the legally regulated area must prove their technical competence through accreditation (article 56 following). This will strengthen the role of the national accreditation body (ECA). According to the new law, only certification marks recognised by the national accreditation body are admissible and registerable (articles 68 and 69).

Furthermore, the role of accreditation in the area of sanctions is strengthened. The Commission for Accreditation can sanction violations of the obligations for accreditation with significant penalties (article 70 following). The scope of the National Quality System will now cover public procurement (article 76) as well. In future, all state bodies must ensure compliance with the National Standards and Technical Rules in procurement and observe accreditation in conformity assessment.

Conclusions

The legislative project reaffirms Costa Rica’s commitment to move decisively towards a National Quality System in line with best international practice, capable of positively influencing the competitiveness of the national productive sector and promoting a fair business environment.

The central institutions of the National Quality System’s role and competences have been expanded and more clearly structured. In addition, the law reform also strengthens coordination between institutions. The National Quality System is extending its influence on the government, the national economy and other areas of the state such as health, agriculture, transport and technology. The National Quality System rules’ binding nature is increased by the consistent use of accreditation in all areas of technical regulations and market surveillance.

At the same time, the draft law shows a path dependency of the National Quality System. Still, it follows the logic of trade and competitiveness, whereas aspects of social and ecological sustainability are not mentioned. This is undoubtedly a weakness of the draft law. It does miss the opportunity to define how the quality infrastructure could co-shape a climate-neutral circular economy and bioeconomy. Hence, there is still a need to put the National Quality System to fair use for the economy’s and society’s necessary transformation.

References

[1] Céspedes, Mauricio (2019) The Green heart of Costa Rica, in: ISO News

[2] OECD (2020). OECD countries invite Costa Rica to join as 38th member; in: OECD Newsroom, 15/05/2020

[3] Sistema Costarricenses de Información Jurídica (2002). Sistema Nacional para la Calidad Ley N° 8279

[4] Rodríguez, María Jesús (2020) Proyecto busca proteger a consumidores de ofertas engañosas. In: CRHoy, March 5th

[5] Asamblea legislativa de la República de Costa Rica (2020). Reforma Integral a la Ley del Sistema Nacional para la Calidad, Ley N° 8279

[6] UNIDO (2018). Quality Policy. Technical Guide, Vienna

This entry was posted in Accreditation, Conformity assessment, Metrology, National Quality System, Quality Infrastructure, Quality Policy, Standards, Sustainability 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.

6 thoughts on “Reform of the quality law in Costa Rica

  1. It’s true that Costa Rica indeed has become reference in environmental matters. A favourite destination for lovers of green tourism and regarded as a mini paradise made up of large tropical forests, spectacular beaches, breathtaking natural waterfalls and a preserved nature. Designated “Champion of the Earth” by the UN in 2019 for its ecological policy, Costa Rica has managed to double its forest area in less than thirty years.
    It has also become the new Eldorado for hippies around the world. Every year, many of them gather on a deserted beach in the south of the country to celebrate “Pacha Mama”, mother nature, at an unbridled party. Costa Rica alone is home to 7% of the world’s biodiversity and all species are protected.
    However, the governement in the greenest country in the world has still environmental challenges. Its agriculture, one of its main resources, is still an issue of debate for several years. Costa Rica uses a record rate of pesticides per hectare under cultivation, including regular spays by aircrafts. It is the world’s largest producer of pineapples. The pineapple trade is dominated by the MD2 variety, most popular worldwide that is produced by a few multinational companies: Dole Food Company, Del Monte Foods, Fyffes and Chiquita. The health consequences are very serious for the workers who work there and people living there.
    This should be an important issue within the National Quality System to influence the government by finding a better balance between more diversification of the national economy, cleaner production as well as stimulating more cultivation of organic pineapples (now only 3%).
    Best, Lex

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lex, for the detailed comment. I would also encourage other readers to share their views and experiences in comments.
      This way, we can use the blog as a discussion platform for quality infrastructure worldwide.

      Thank you, Lex, for the detailed comment. I would also encourage other readers to share their views and experiences commenting on the post.
      This way, we can use the blog as a discussion platform for quality infrastructure worldwide.

      In terms of content, I share Lex van Boeckel’s view. In 2017, I had advised President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera’s government on an industrial policy strategy on behalf of GIZ. The background to this was the country’s now completed accession to the OECD. We identified three gaps in the Costa Rican development model:

      The productive gap: Companies integrated into global value chains and multinationals located in free zones are very productive, while SMEs serving the local economy generally have low productivity and are characterised by a high degree of informality.
      The territorial gap: Costa Rica’s productive success is firmly located in the San José metropolitan area, while the other regions of the country lack productive dynamism.
      The ecological gap: The image of the green country is also challenged by problems of pollution, especially from transport, and by agriculture with high pesticide use (the main focus is on the production of rice, bananas and pineapples). There is a lack of coherence.

      Despite the country’s progress, these problems persist to this day. In this respect, the challenge of shaping the structural change towards a sustainable and socially and territorially balanced development remains. The National Quality Infrastructure can and should contribute to this socioecological transformation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy New year Ulrich. Great Article (as usual)

    Theodore

    On Mon, Jan 25, 2021 at 3:29 AM Quality Infrastructure for Development wrote:

    > Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke posted: ” Central American success model Costa > Rica is a small, innovative country in Central America. Long ago, the > government decided to abstain from having an army and instead invested in > environmental protection and technological innovation.[1] Costa Rica h” >

    Like

  3. Very interesting initiative on finding the right approach to the delicate balance between a voluntary NQI (…or NQS as they apparently prefer to call it) and technical regulations.
    I do agree with Ramón, that such a quality law should be born out of a quality policy – which again should be very much based on the communications between all stakeholders within the Quality Council. I like particularly the establishmen of the “Cordination body for Technical Regulations” (ORT) – which I understand has been replaced (?) by the new CONART in the revised law.
    Also interesting that some increased authority for enforcement has been given to the AB.
    However, I wonder why the background, functionality and role of the CABs is not described more clearly? They will (and should) be (in addition to the market surveillance) the operational part of the NQI which is out there in direct contact with the end-users – and for that sake also play an important role in the establishment/strengthening of a quality culture in the country. And (apparently) no specific initiative is taken in the (revised) law to promote a quality culture?

    Like

    • Hi Lorens, thank you for your comment.

      One strength of the legislative reform lies in the specification of technical regulation and market surveillance. The new law strengthens the regulatory coordination function of the Ministry Economy, Industry, and Trade. Accreditation will become mandatory for conformity assessment in the compulsory area.

      I find your comment on the lack of specification of the quality culture relevant.

      In Article 3, the Reform Law defines quality culture as one of the aims and purposes of the National Quality System:
      “To promote the introduction and educational promotion of the culture of quality at all levels of national life.”

      However, the document mentions quality culture is only once. This lack of specificity is typical of many quality policies whose ultimate goal is to promote quality culture without clearly stating what is meant by quality culture.
      We have published already one blog post on this issue, but there is still a need for further discussion and research.

      Like

      • Well – to me the development of a Quality Culture and a (well-functioning) NQI goes hand in hand.
        The NQI will not function properly without a culture of understanding and cooperation from the stakeholders, and at the same time it must be one of the responsibilities of the institutions within the NQI (especially the CABs) to build up a good quality culture in the society.
        And the framework for this mechanism should be stated clearly in the Quality Policy.

        Liked by 1 person

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