As the need for compliance in international trade has grown there have been a multitude of changes in the way that the compliance of exported goods is verified. The most significant of these changes has been the shift from the traditional Pre-Shipment Inspection (PSI) programmes to more comprehensive Product Conformity Assessment (PCA) over the past 10 years. As many will remember the old PSI programmes required very little from exporters who would simply need to facilitate an inspection of goods prior to shipping without the need to provide quality information or undergo any formal verification of compliance procedures. The importer would make an application for a certificate of conformity to their local SGS office and provide relevant documentation to the respective government agencies or inspection company locally (usually an import declaration and a copy of commercial invoice). Container sealing was commonly used by the inspection companies and was a good way to ensure that the products being shipped were those that had been declared and inspected prior to shipment. However there was very little emphasis placed on ensuring the quality of the goods under PSI procedures.
With growing concern from various countries about imported products and the effects of substandard and counterfeit items on the local environment, economy and citizens, product conformity assessment (PCA) was introduced and a greater emphasis was placed on ensuring that only genuine, high quality goods entered their markets. The role that mandated third party inspection companies played also changed and they were now tasked with evaluating the products being shipped in order to verify their compliance prior to being shipped. In order to do this a comprehensive documentary review of all the available quality, test or technical information relating to the products would need to be undertaken by the inspection company and once the compliance of goods was verified an inspection of the goods would take place before a COC was issued. With the growing need to ensure compliance, PCA therefore represented a complete shift in mentality for many exporters, especially those who were familiar with PSI. These exporters now found that compliance was their responsibility; that they would have to apply for a certificate of conformity (COC), as part of the application process. And they would also need to provide a wealth of information relating to the goods that they had not previously been asked for.
Suddenly exporters needed to provide test reports, technical documentation and quality information relating to the goods before an inspection could take place and this inevitably caused delays in shipping the goods.
Fast forwarding 7–8 years, PCA is now an accepted part of trade with Middle Eastern and African countries and most exporters have adapted their internal processes to ensure they are able to provide the necessary information. But we now find that PCA is evolving as are the compliance procedures – container sealing is now mandatory for almost all shipments to Kenya and the launch of SABER in Saudi Arabia will shift some of the emphasis back to importers again.
There is also no doubt that Brexit will lead to further measures being introduced for UK based exporters, despite the notion that the UK will all of a sudden shun international standards being absurd; of course at this stage we do not know what these measures are likely to be, but as a great songwriter once said “the times they are a changin’.”