THE Standards Association of Zimbabwe (Saz) is lobbying government to set up a National Quality Regulatory Authority (NQRA), which will test the quality of all imported goods coming into the country.
The regulatory authority would reduce the influx of cheap and substandard imported commodities flooding the local market and threatening the survival of local industry.
In his mid-term budget review last week, Finance minister Tendai Biti said the domestic market was flooded with highly subsidised and cheap imports, particularly from China, and those accommodated under Sadc and Comesa trade regimes.
In an interview with businessdigest, Saz CEO Eve Gadzikwa said Saz had started lobbying for the creation of NQRA because there was no one checking the quality of imported goods that were coming into the country.
Zimbabwe is a net importer of goods, having a trade deficit projection this year of US$2,8 billion, from total exports of US$5,1 billion against imports of US$8,2 billion.
Gadzikwa said while Saz could support local industry on standards, no one was vetting the quality of imported goods.
She pointed out that her organisation was not a regulator but a non-profit making organisation under the Companies Act.
"We provide voluntary services to organisations that come to us interested in improving their standards. It creates the basisto conform. It's not a requirement per se," said Gadzikwa.
She said the ideal situation was not to turn Saz into a regulator but there should be a regulatory authority, which creates a level playing field between local industry and imports.
"Saz is only a certifier, so there is need to separate the two," Gadzikwa said. She noted that there were some countries in the region like Kenya and South Africa, with a similar model to the one Saz was lobbying for. Initially, South Africa had put its regulatory authority and the Standards Association Bureau of South Africa (Sabs) under the same roof but that was not workable and they eventually opted for a National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications separate from Sabs.
According to Gadzikwa, the imported products which have been shortlisted for standards testing have a negative impact on the environment and were potentially hazardous to the community. She gave an example of blended fuel, where the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority has asked Saz for assistance.
"Consumers want to be sure that whatever fuel they put into their expensive cars will not do damage. Saz is now working with Zera and the Petroleum Industry Association of Zimbabwe to standardise the fuel. This is where the regulatory authority will come in to ensure the country does not import sub-standard fuels," she said.
As for bottled water, Gadzikwa disclosed that her organization did not force companies to certify water but instead those regulations were from the Health ministry. The same applied to fire extinguishers, whose by-laws are set out by the Fire Brigade. In terms of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2011, all Zimbabwean vehicles should have Saz-certified fire extinguishers.
Gadzikwa emphasized that as a member of the International Standards Organisation (ISO), the core business of Saz was formulation of standards. Saz currently has more than 56 stakeholders, among them the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) and the Consumer Council of Zimababwe (CCZ). She said currently the organisation had formulated or adopted more than 1 500 standards from ISO9001 to ISO14001.
Saz had also participated in standards harmonisation within Sadc, Comesa and the East African Community.