Using Quality Infrastructure to cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic

PTB’s Covid-19 Task Force

Soon after the Covid-19 pandemic started raging around the globe in spring 2020, the German Metrology Institute PTB founded a Task Force Covid-19 to discuss the specific requirements during the crisis, potential longer-term effects and the extent to which PTB needs to adapt its development work to new conditions. A key question discussed was the decision on topical areas relevant for QI response to the Covid-19 pandemic. After a few meetings, some topical areas emerged that addressed health-related services, sustainable economic development, capacity development online, strengthening digital infrastructure in partner countries, public relations and new challenges for project assistance. For each topic, subgroups were formed that jointly worked on papers, online tools and other outputs. Each subgroup included a combination of PTB colleagues and external experts regularly working with PTB.

Mesopartner consultants joined the subgroups of sustainable economic development and capacity development online. This blog post looks at the subgroup sustainable economic development (SED) and, particularly, its main output paper.

How could QI activities help overcome the crisis’s economic consequences?

The SED group decided to work on ideas of QI support to promote sustainable economic development in PTB partner countries. The critical question to address was how QI activities could help overcome the crisis’s economic consequences. From the start, the intention was to prepare a position paper with recommended actions to be shared with the German Federal Ministry of Cooperation and Development (BMZ), other development organizations and partners in project countries.

The subgroup, consisting of nine members, started its work in June 2020, prepared a draft paper until autumn 2020 and a final draft until early 2021. The discussion paper was finally published on the PTB website in spring 2021 and presented in a PTB blog post on 11 May 2021.

What are Covid-19 response activities in sustainable economic development?

From the onset, the challenge was addressing a broad and complex topic in a brief, easily understandable paper, not exceeding ten pages. Given this premise, what aspects to discuss and what issues to ignore? What are examples of Covid-19 response activities in SED in and outside PTB projects? How to collect a good overview of such measures? What else, beyond real-life examples, could we recommend?

After a series of group meetings, some focus areas and a paper structure emerged. The group understood that a well-functioning and agile QI is essential for cross-border trade, social and sustainability standards, rural development and agricultural value chains, innovation activities, and sustainability and resilience of companies and value chains. This especially holds in times of crisis, such as a global pandemic. The QI of individual countries and their international associations needed to react swiftly to the challenges of the situation and adapt and innovate quickly to continue offering existing and new services with reliable quality. Different group members took on the task of drafting topic-specific chapters, which were then discussed jointly and weaved together during the bi-weekly group meetings.

The result is a discussion paper that proposes measures that international QI donors – such as PTB – can take during a pandemic to mitigate the consequences of the crisis and sustainably strengthen the economies in developing and emerging countries. The focus is on measures at the intersection of QI, sustainable economic development and Covid-19 relevance.

The global health crisis expanded the meaning of quality by health, hygiene, safety and resilience

Against the conceptual background outlined in each sub-chapter, Annex 1 of the paper presents recommended actions currently implemented or at the stage of concrete ideas. Apart from financial support, there are many technical measures in the QI area that can help companies and other actors in economic life assure the quality of products, services, and processes. During the global health crisis, the very meaning of quality expanded with a stronger focus on health, hygiene, safety and resilience.

Among the relevant topics discussed in the paper, innovation is particularly inspiring. Changing framework conditions force innovation in companies and other organizations. During a crisis of the magnitude of the corona pandemic, the pressure to innovate is exceptionally high and acute. Alternatives to the usual processes, products and services must be found quickly to work and react to new needs of customers, partners, and regulators. This often leads to radical innovations condensed into a relatively short period. Particularly in times of crisis, various actors in an innovation system innovate independently or in mutual interaction. These actors are primarily QI institutions, companies and regulatory institutions that set the framework conditions. Innovation here means introducing new QI services (e.g. developing hygiene standards for non-food sectors; online training on ISO 22301 Business Continuity) and adjusting how QI services are delivered to clients (e.g. free access to selected standards; remote services for certification and accreditation). In finding alternative ways of doing things, innovation is a cross-cutting topic concerning promoting SED during health crises and addressing other relevant matters, such as the healthcare system, the digital infrastructure, and digital learning formats.

What could QI contribute to mitigating the economic impacts of the current and future pandemics and crises?

Ultimately, this PTB paper intends to encourage a discussion on what QI could contribute to mitigating the negative economic impacts of the current crisis and any future pandemics coming along. It tries to support the Build Back Better discussion aiming at the global economic system to change for the better sustainably after the crisis. Enjoy reading!

PTB 2021. Using Quality Infrastructures to Cope with the Economic Impacts of the Pandemic. Discussion Paper. 

Quality Infrastructure in Small Island Developing States

The development of a national quality infrastructure needs always to be oriented towards the local specifics. This statement is especially true for small countries and island states. Mesopartner has had the privilege of accompanying national quality policies (NQPs) in several of these countries. Our first experience was the NQP of Trinidad and Tobago, followed by NQP’s for Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Suriname. We are currently advising the Government of Saint Kitts and Nevis to develop the NQP for one of the world’s smallest countries. In addition, we guide the process of identifying and analysing the need for quality infrastructure services in the Pacific Islands region.

In the following, we clarify the concept of SIDS and describe recent developments in building quality infrastructure in different world regions.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a diverse group of states that share some common characteristics and vulnerabilities, such as insularity, geographical remoteness and small size of the economy, population, and land area.

SIDS were first recognised as a distinct group of developing countries at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992. In 1994, the United Nations established a Programme of Action in Barbados to assist SIDS in achieving sustainable development. The United Nations Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) represent this group. [1]

The SIDS group includes 38 UN member states from the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS) (9), the Caribbean (16) and the Pacific (13).[1] In addition, 20 non-UN members belong to the territory of former colonial countries (Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands) and the USA.

The diversity of SIDS is reflected in the size of the population, the level of socio-economic development and the level of advancement of the National Quality Infrastructure:

  • With 11.3 million inhabitants, Haiti is the most populous and, at the same time, the most impoverished country.
  • Timor-Leste has only rudimentary quality infrastructure and ranks 184th and last in the GQII2020.

In the group, Singapore is the wealthiest country with a GDP per capita of 65,233 USD (2019) and has the most developed quality infrastructure (rank 32 in GQII2020). Due to its level of development, Singapore, which sees itself as a SIDS because of its geographical and historical characteristics, is a financial supporter of the SIDS community.

Special features of the small island states

Despite their differences, small island developing states share similar challenges to sustainable development, such as small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, vulnerability to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, overdependence on international trade and a fragile environment. Their growth and development are held back by high communication, energy and transport costs, irregular international transport, disproportionately expensive public administration, and infrastructure due to their small size and little to no opportunity to create economies of scale.

In most SDIS, the private sector and civil society are developmentally organised so that the government often necessarily assumes the role of a “master strategist” [2]. The crowding out of private entrepreneurship and civil society engagement is, therefore, sometimes prevalent. In addition, the colonial past often acts as a cultural inhibiting factor for dynamic socio-economic development.[3]

Implications for Quality Infrastructure

In small island states, the development of the national quality infrastructure always needs to be based on the current and potential demand for quality-related services. However, due to the smallness of the national market and primarily export-oriented commodity industries, there is usually a lack of critical mass to develop all components and benefits of the quality infrastructure. Therefore, it is often cheaper to import quality-related services than to provide them oneself.

However, it is not always easy to import needed services cost-effectively and timely due to insularity and high transport costs. In this respect, and out of the necessity for self-directed development, it makes sense to establish basic laboratory, certification and inspection facilities in the country. In contrast, less critical-mass services such as accreditation of testing laboratories, certification and inspection bodies can be more cost-effectively obtained abroad.

Importance of regional cooperation

One way of dealing with the lack of critical size of small countries is regional cooperation. The CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) is an inspiring example in the Caribbean.

CROSQ was established in 2002 and is one of the 19 institutions of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) today. As Regional Standards Body, CROSQ supports the development and expansion of the 15 National Standards Bureaus of CARICOM and is the focal point for technical cooperation and manages various programmes to promote regional quality infrastructure. In 2017, with the support of the European Union and in collaboration with the National Quality Institute of the Dominican Republic (INDOCAL), CROSQ developed a regional quality policy to guide QI development in the Caribbean.

The 15 CARICOM member states today benefit from CROSQ’s work in the following areas of quality infrastructure:

In metrology, CROSQ is an associate member of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), which gives the small island states access to the BIPM Capacity Building and Knowledge Transfer Programme. In addition, CROSQ channels resources from international and regional cooperation to build the calibration and legal metrology capacity and acquire equipment for the metrology departments of the national standard bureaus/metrology institutes.

A significant success of the Capability Building was that in 2020, following independent successes by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) achieved international recognition for calibration and measurement capacities (CMCs) in mass and by participating in the International Committee for Weights and Measures – Mutual Recognition Arrangement (CIPM-MRA). This arrangement achieved those measurements from Trinidad and Tobago meets the highest standards internationally, which significantly facilitates trade.

In the field of standardisation, CROSQ contributes to the regional harmonisation of national standards. CROSQ coordinates the work of regional standard committees, with the NBS of individual member states taking the lead. Once the CARICOM Council of Ministers of Trade and Economic Development (COTED) officially recognises regional standards, member states are encouraged to adopt these standards.

Common standards also facilitate cooperation in conformity assessment. CROSQ supports a particular division of labour between the NBS of the member states by establishing so-called regional centres of excellence in testing and metrology.

It is unrealistic for each member state to establish its own accreditation body, as previously said. Only Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have their own accreditation body, but these bodies service the regional need in many different areas. In the remaining countries, CROSQ has supported the establishment of National Accreditation Focal Points (NAFPs). These NAFPs are contact points for local companies and inform them about suitable accreditation offers within and outside the region.

Overall, it is often more critical for tiny countries to establish well-functioning information points than to pursue the goal of providing as many quality-related services as possible to the local economy itself.

South-South Cooperation

Compared to the Caribbean, regional cooperation and the development of quality infrastructure in the Pacific Island countries are still in their infancy. This is partly since most Pacific Island countries only gained independence in the 1980s or later, and many of the economies there are small or even micro.

An initial study by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat on quality infrastructure dates to 2005. A 2019 update of this survey-based study [7] shows increasing awareness among governments of the importance of quality infrastructure for trade and development.

In 2019, the EU Tradecom II Programme, http://www.tradecom-acpeu.org, organised an exchange between African, Caribbean and Pacific Island countries. In this context, the representatives of the Pacific states took up with great interest the experiences from the Caribbean with regional integration in the development of quality infrastructure. As a result, there is now a multi-donor supported Pacific Quality Infrastructure project for regional QI promotion, with the collaborative support of CROSQ and its SIDS.

Strengthening trade-related quality infrastructure through intra-ACP partnerships

On March 5th, 2021, the Pacific Quality Infrastructure (PQI) project held its inaugural meeting, marking formal progress with the forum Islands Countries (FICs) virtual networking event. [8]

The experience with the small island states shows that the concept of national quality infrastructure is also relevant for this group of states. However, the range of services must adapt to local needs. Regional cooperation and integration frameworks are conducive to using scarce resources as efficiently as possible. National quality infrastructure institutions can also learn from experiences in other parts of the world, especially from regions with similar development situations. Here, bi- and trilateral development cooperation can be essential support.

References

[1] UN-OHRLLS (2011). Small Island Developing States. Small Islands Big(ger) Stakes, New York

[2] OTF Group (2010). Cluster Best Practices for the Caribbean Private Sector Development Discussion Paper #5, No.  IDB-DP-161 September 2010, Washington DC

[3] Farrell, Terrence W (2017). We Like It So? The Cultural Roots of Economic Underachievement in Trinidad and Tobago 1st Edition, North Charleston

[4] TTBS (2020). T&T Receives International Recognition for Mass and Related Quantities, Press release February 25

[5] Kovacevic, Michelle (2020): The evolution of Quality Infrastructure in the Caribbean; in Trade for Development News by EIF, 26 August

[6] Kovacevic, Michelle (2020): Pacific Islands countries band together to increase export quality; in Trade for Development News by EIF, 26 August

[7] Diekmann, Ulrich (2019). Pacific QI Survey. The state of play of the quality infrastructure in the Forum Island Countries. Unpublished. PTB, Braunschweig/ Germany

[8] ForumSec (2021) Pacific Quality Infrastructure Project Builds Momentum, Marcha 8, Suva

Benchmarking QI worldwide

For ten years, we, Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke and Juan José Oteiza have been working on measuring and comparing the development level of a country’s quality infrastructure (QI). This challenging task occupied not only us but also colleagues from metrology, standardisation and accreditation bodies, and other consultants. Those responsible for QI in international development cooperation asked themselves the same question.

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Women in the Quality Infrastructure System

Gender inequality is still present throughout the world

The world is equally composed of women and men. However, gender inequality is still present throughout the world. As published by the United Nations in October 2020, only 47% of working-age women participated in the global labour market, while for men, the percentage was 74%. This gender gap has remained relatively constant since 1995, i.e., the difference between men and women employed worldwide has not changed in the last 25 years.[1]

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Geographical Indication – place-linked quality of products

Geographical indication of product quality

Mexican Tequila, Darjeeling Tea, Roquefort cheese, French Champagne, Italian Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese, Ecuadorian Cacao Arriba, Colombian Coffee, South African Rooibos herbal tea, Scotch whisky, Munich beer or Phu Quoc fish sauce from Vietnam. These are all famous examples of origin-linked indication of product quality. Hearing such product names provides an affirmation with customers about trustworthy quality, a long tradition in the production and legal brand protection.

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