Quality: compliance or competitive strategy?

A critical factor in moving towards sustainable development and innovation

Higher standards are often associated with better consumer protection and quality of life. However, this correlation is not unequivocal, as neither markets nor government regulation work perfectly. This observation is especially true for developing and emerging countries. In this sense, we wonder how a country’s quality infrastructure can best be aligned to contribute to economically sustainable development and the quality of life of its citizens in challenging contexts.

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Quality infrastructure, trade and environmental agreements

The potentially tumultuous relationship between Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreements has been an issue of special interest within the international trade and environmental debate for decades. Discussions often revolve around incompatibilities between MEAs and WTO Agreements since some MEAs contain trade measures, which may be inconsistent with obligations under WTO Agreements. Quality infrastructure (QI) could be the key to fulfilling obligations under both sets of agreements simultaneously and without conflict.

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Data on international standards

QI Data Series

What are the differences between countries using international standards?

For decades, the United States, Western Europe and Japan have led international standard development. Representatives of these countries chaired most international standards committees and led standard making through agenda-setting and the know-how of national companies and scientific institutions. Representatives from other countries also participated in standards committees but chaired only a few technical committees. Standards takers are those countries that adopt standards but do not participate in developing those standards.

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Quality infrastructure for the service sector

Quality infrastructure has its origins in the industrial revolution of the 19th century, first in England, then throughout Western Europe and the USA, and later spread to Japan and other parts of Europe and Asia during the transition from agrarian to industrial societies. For a long time, QI was mainly a matter of checking whether physical products met defined technical specifications. Testing served both the safety of products and their usability in value-added processes based on the division of labour. Thus, the measurement of physical units was at the centre of the entire quality system.

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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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