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Several African standardisation bodies convened in Cape Town recently, to discuss how standards can support the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA) which will be implemented in 2020. This meeting was a bi-lateral meeting on the occasion of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) week.

The agreement establishing AfCFTA has resulted in the biggest trade agreement since the World Trade Organisation was established in 1994. It is expected that with the reduced barriers to trade, the growth in intra-Africa trade, of an estimated USD 2 trillion, will be traded internally – within the next year.

Most African standards bodies are member of the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO), which established itself in 1977 to develop tools for standards development and regional harmonisation to enhance Africa’s internal trading capacity, increase product and service competitiveness globally, and uplift of the welfare of African consumers.

“The development and harmonisation of African standards and best practices must serve the needs of African member countries and that of the region. The harmonisation of technical regulations, standards, conformity assessment procedures, enforcement protocols and a dispute settlement process need to support the African free trade agreement. African standards bodies have an important role to play in developing their nations to become active and inclusive members of this new regional market, through the promotion of standards to ensure that maximum benefits can be derived,” says Hermogène Nsengimana, secretary general of ARSO.

Several technical infrastructure organisations in Africa, in addition to ARSO will contribute to the development of standardisation, conformity assessments and quality assurance, including the Pan-African Quality Infrastructure (PAQI), African Accreditation Cooperation (AFRAC), Intra-Africa Metrology System (AFRIMETS), African Electro Technical Standardisation Commission (AFSEC) and the African Union Commission (AUC).

“Standard bodies across the region need to collaboratively develop common systems and standards that sustainably support social, economic, trade and industrial integration. For South Africa, the benefits of enhanced access to regional markets could significantly boost our economy, ignite industrialisation and foster regional harmony. The opportunities for capacity building, job creation, sharing of resources and technologies – could be the elixir for our economic woes,” says Garth Strachan, Acting CEO of the South African Bureau of standards.

Africa is currently the second-largest export destination for South Africa, topped by Asia. South Africa exported 26.2% of its products into Africa in 2017, while importing only 9.9%. AfCFTA is expected to expand and diversify export destinations within the region.

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