National quality infrastructure, the way forward for export competitiveness | Sunday Observer

National quality infrastructure, the way forward for export competitiveness

25 October, 2020

In today’s global environment countries are interconnected and interlinked and therefore, the world is identified as the global village.

Hence, markets are very competitive and therefore, survival in these markets becomes very challenging due to a variety of similar products being available in the market. With the accelerated change of developing new technology, a wide variety of new products and services will be introduced continuously to the market to address the changing needs of consumers.

The new products sometimes catch the market or sometimes become failures.

This is common to every product in the market not only to new products. Hence we need to look at the secret behind the success of a product in the market. Products or the services purchased by customers need to satisfy the expected needs of customers then only they become a repeated purchaser of that very same product or services.

In other words, the “quality” of the products and services fulfill these requirements. Globalisation creates a market where the success of products or services is not dependent on the price but the quality of the products or services, and therefore, “quality” becomes a competitive weapon in determining the fate of the products or services.

Quality of products or services

Quality has different definitions. One of the technical definitions is “quality means conformance to specifications”. This definition is very much important as it can be used to measure the quality of products and hence it is possible to make a judgment about the acceptance or rejection of that product.

As a result, these product standards become very important as any product quality has to be checked against the applicable product standard. Therefore, up to date, product-based standards play a prominent role within the industry and trade. For example, in most business entities competitiveness is often limited because their products or services do not comply with the minimum requirements for quality as specified in the applicable standard which is an essential component nowadays in commercial transactions, at the national or international level.

This becomes a mandatory requirement for products in the regulatory markets, and therefore small and medium scale entrepreneurs sometimes face huge problems in fulfilling the minimum requirements for quality as stipulated in the standards due to lack of having a sound quality infrastructure within the country. The situation becomes more complicated due to the lack of acceptable proof that can lead to a technical barrier to trade. With the increasing number of standards and technical regulations imposed by the different markets with higher demands, technical trade barriers are becoming an important issue for manufactures, traders, and exporters. Hence, manufacturers and exporters, will have to meet these requirements to sell their products in the ever-changing global markets and also when to consider entering into new markets to expand the market share which in turn brings foreign exchange to the country.

National Quality Infrastructure

A National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) helps improve the quality of products and services on a national scale while promoting demand for these products and services, which revitalise single enterprises and the economy as a whole.

NQI supports local businesses to penetrate international markets in value chains by meeting the requirements of the export markets, while enhancing the competitiveness of the nation’s economy. Given this, it is necessary to have a fully acceptable NQI covering the bigger picture as that would support the industry and trade to gain the maximum benefits not only in the international value chain but also in national markets while paving the way to contribute to the national economy.

The main activities include under an NQI framework are standardisation, metrology, conformity assessment (testing, inspection, and certification), and accreditation. A well-organised NQI framework ensures the effective implementation of these activities with up-to-date information providing the way to reduce the multiple inspections and testing of products in the supply chain adding value to the entrepreneurs and also reducing costs of trade.


The Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) is the premier institution responsible for the formulation of national standards for products, processes, and services. Usually standardising bodies should comply with the Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption, and Application of Standards, also known as the “Standards Code”, given as annex 3 of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Sri Lanka Standards – SLS 0 describes the procedure for the development of standards. That code provides the principles that have to be followed concerning standardization work. SLSI is the member body of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and has the right to adopt any international standard considering the needs and the applicability of the country so that it becomes a national standard. Normally ISO standards can be adopted “as it is” and there is no need to develop new standards.

But in certain situations, it may not be possible to adopt the international standard “as it is”, due to technical or structural conditions and in such instances, new standards have to be drawn up or maybe done some local adjustments and consider as a national standard.

Standards play a vital role in the business environment as those describe the best practices and therefore, it helps the producers and suppliers to use the resources in an optimum manner paving the way to cut down unnecessary costs. However, it is necessary to note that standards are voluntary. However, the most important thing is to have up-to-date standards so that the business entities can use these standards to improve and hence the processes to gain the maximum advantage in the market. Therefore, more emphasis in this area is very much required to develop the Sri Lankan industry and trade.

Technical regulations

The standards published can be considered by different organisations under the powers vested on them and make it mandatory for compliance then those are identified as technical regulations.In Sri Lanka, several government institutions are engaged in regulating the market by issuing technical regulations.

As a result, the market has a regulatory area where all products or services covered under those technical regulations shall fulfill the requirements stipulated in the specific regulations. Hence, sometimes the market gets disturbed if the technical regulations are not properly issued having negative consequences for economic growth.

To avoid such issues and to ensure that the technical regulation is fit for the betterment of the industry and trade as well as the community, before issuing such regulations it should follow the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) approach as that is the most recognized best practice.

However, there is evidence in most of the technical regulations that became dysfunctional due to issuing it for the sake of issuing without following the said best practice.

In Sri Lanka, there is no single institution engaged in monitoring or coordinating technical regulations and as a result, technical regulations are not properly tracked and as a result, the business environment becomes so complex and uncertain creating unnecessary trade barriers.


The national measurement standards with their international traceability is another vital area in the country. In Sri Lanka, the Measurement Units, Standards, and Services Department (MUSSD) is the custodian of metrology.

The main role of the department is to maintain the National Standard of measurement and SI Units and for realising those units of measurement through the development and maintenance of a standard of measurement, reference material, and reference techniques.

There are three important areas in metrology and it has an impact on industry and trade and finally on the economy. Those are: scientific metrology that addresses the measurement, standards, and techniques; Industrial metrology that address calibration which is vital for industry equipment measurement; and legal metrology that takes care of the verifications that are important in the national interest point of view.

In Sri Lanka, three government laboratories provide calibration services to the industry, while a few private sector bodies also provide the same facility to the industry. A calibration laboratory has to implement a quality system according to ISO/IEC17025 and to demonstrate its technical competence through the accreditation of the calibration scope offered to its clients in addition to the traceability of the reference standards used for customer calibrations.

These laboratory services are very important and need to ensure that services are provided in a very professional manner that help industries to save money by having an optimum use of resources because calibration ensures that the measurement equipment once calibrated provides the correct reading.

Conformity Assessment

Conformity Assessment is a mechanism that ensures the product, service, or system meets the requirements of a standard. Normally, conformity assessment includes testing, certification, and inspection. Today, certification plays a major role in international and local trade because certification guarantees that the product conforms with the expected requirements, and to fulfill these tasks normally the product is tested against the expected requirements and see whether it fulfills the requirement.

There are two types of certification, product and systems. For example, in the Sri Lankan context, the SLS mark is a product certification where the final product is tested as per the applicable national standard in addition to process quality control assessment in deciding to grant certification.

However, systems certification such as ISO 9001 quality management system is a management system certification that does not have any testing but assesses the compliance of the documented system against the requirements of the standard. However, certification reduces the multi-testing of products, and also the most important thing of product certification is that it eliminates the multiple testing and also enhances the speed at which goods pass through the border.

In other words, certification would function as a passport and address the technical trade barriers.

However, to grant product certification the relevant products have to be tested in the laboratories. In such a situation the reliability of the test results plays a vital role as the decision is based on the test reports.

In that context, the technical competence of the laboratories is very much important as the results depend on the correct operation, use of proper test method, the accuracy of test results interpretation, and measuring equipment with proper traceable calibration.

However, in Sri Lanka, the public and private sector manage laboratories and the recognition of those laboratories play an important role in enhancing trade activities.


In the market, Accreditation and Certification are often confused and sometimes when an ISO certification is received it is advertised as ISO accreditation.

However, it is necessary to understand that accreditation is higher than a certification. For certification and accreditation, there are two different international standards and those standards indicate the requirements need to be fulfilled by the certification bodies and accreditation bodies. However, accreditation bodies can accredit the certification bodies, testing laboratories, inspection bodies if those bodies do have the necessary capability and competence to carry out such functions professionally as per the stipulated requirements of the respective international standards.

As a result, after the accreditation is received the certification bodies, testing bodies, and inspection bodies’ certificates are recognised as acceptable and capable bodies to conduct such operations, and therefore, the output of those can be accepted with trust and confidence.

This cannot be noticed by simply following a checklist to confirm compliance with a standard. Normally, in the international chain, every country has an accreditation body and all accreditation bodies are interconnected to assure that the operational functions are more or less the same.

There is also an International Accreditation Forum (IAF) where these accreditation bodies are members of this forum that ensure the international acceptance of accreditation certificates issued by different bodies in the world. The Sri Lanka Accreditation Board (SLAB) conducts accreditation functions in Sri Lanka and in addition to that foreign accreditation bodies also operate in Sri Lanka.

Market surveillance

One of the very important activities is to have a very systematic approach for market surveillance to ensure whether the products bearing the seals fulfill the requirements consistently so that the products in the market are safe for consumption or use.

One of the important things is that on many occasions these products need to be tested and for that technical sound, laboratories are required. Not only that the capacity to handle the workload efficiently and effectively by these laboratories is an important factor but also reducing too much delay of issuing the relevant test reports of the market samples may have an impact on making the right decisions in the consumer protection activities. For standards, mandatory compliance product delay of getting test reports may create disturbances in the market and also on importers and exporters.

Gaps in the system

The prevailing NQI system in Sri Lanka is incomplete as at present the legislation for NQI was outdated and incomplete and there is a need to develop the legal framework addressing the gaps after doing a thorough assessment.

The writer is a retired Director General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution.

To be continued