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. 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). 
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. 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. The structure follows the previous law, but the number of articles increased from fifty (50) to eighty-one (81).
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. 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.
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.
 Céspedes, Mauricio (2019) The Green heart of Costa Rica, in: ISO News
 OECD (2020). OECD countries invite Costa Rica to join as 38th member; in: OECD Newsroom, 15/05/2020
 Sistema Costarricenses de Información Jurídica (2002). Sistema Nacional para la Calidad Ley N° 8279
 Rodríguez, María Jesús (2020) Proyecto busca proteger a consumidores de ofertas engañosas. In: CRHoy, March 5th
 Asamblea legislativa de la República de Costa Rica (2020). Reforma Integral a la Ley del Sistema Nacional para la Calidad, Ley N° 8279
 UNIDO (2018). Quality Policy. Technical Guide, Vienna