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

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