29. 10

Tested once - accepted everywhere


• What preferences will Russian exporting companies get upon signing the APLAC MRA?
• Will testing laboratories be obliged to get accreditation again?
• Will Russian exporting companies cut their expenses when Russian testing laboratories are authorized to use the APLAC MRA mark on their protocols?

In June, at the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC) and the Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (PAC) held in Bangkok, the Federal Service for Accreditation (RusAccreditation) officially joined the APLAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA). The document was signed by the Head of RusAccreditation A.I. Khersontsev, APLAC MRA Council Chair Dr. L. Richards, and APLAC Chair Mr Wong Wang-wah. The signing of the Arrangement has become an important step of Russia’s National Accreditation System reform aimed at international recognition of the results of accreditation of Russian testing laboratories and certification agencies. In his interview with the head of RusAccreditation A.I. Khersontsev, the Editor-in-Chief of the “Standards and Quality” magazine G.P. Voronin finds out what preferences Russian business will get from the status of the member of the ALPAC MRA, how the signing of the Arrangement will affect the work of Russian testing laboratories, and what the short-terms plans of RusAccreditation are.

— Aleksei Igorevich, first of all, I’d like to congratulate you on such a significant achievement as RusAccreditation becoming a member of the APLAC MRA. What benefits will this membership give to Russian business?

— The signing of the Arrangement was preceded by the meticulous and serous work of the Federal Service for Accreditation together with the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, ROSSTANDART, and other relevant executive authorities. I’d like to emphasize the contribution of our Community Council and the all-Russian associations of entrepreneurs: RUIE, Opora Russia, Business Russia, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The increase of the share of export of goods produced in Russia is one of the key tasks of all economic institutions, and one of the 11 priority directions of the country’s development for the nearest years as defined by the Federal Government. However, we have to bear in mind that export from one country always means import to another country. Usually, countries set up barriers to import products, including the compliance assessment procedures. RusAccreditation deals with certification agencies, inspection bodies, testing laboratories - i.e. institutions which can help to clear these barriers. That’s why, when in 2010 the decision on the creation of a unified national accreditation system in our country was made (as you remember, the Federal Service for Accreditation was established in 2011), its main goal was the creation of a system in accordance with internationally recognized procedures. What does the wording “internationally recognized” mean and how is it connected to business? In the last third of the 20th century, the globalization processes led to the situation when economically developed countries started reducing the expenses of their manufacturers connected with the confirmation of products’ compliance with the requirements of both the customers and the third countries. For this purpose, they started actively using international standards, and the process of compliance assessment standardization was initialized. Over time, accreditation bodies started emerging, designed to ensure confidence in compliance assessment agencies. An idea started up that it is possible to gain confidence in compliance assessment bodies, accredited in different countries, by means of the standardization of the work of accreditation agencies, and their mutual recognition of the quality of each other’s work. It led to the creation of global accreditation organizations - the International Laboratory Accreditation Conference (ILAC) - in the sphere of laboratory accreditation - and the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) - in the sphere of certification agencies accreditation. ILAC’s motto is “Accreditation: international confidence”, its principle is “Tested once - accepted everywhere”. As it is stated on the organization’s website, its goal is the wide use and recognition by the production sector and the authorities of the results obtained by accredited laboratories and inspection bodies of different countries. There are several levels of participation in the ILAC’s work: an associate, a full member, a signatory to the ILAC MRA. This document can be signed only upon the assessment of the accreditation body by its peer partners - accreditation bodies of other countries. According to the current rules, in order to become the MRA member, it is necessary to be the participant of the same arrangement at the level of one of the regional organizations responsible for laboratory accreditation. In our case it is the APLAC. Thus, the signing of the APLAC MRA clears the way for us to join the ILAC MRA agreement. In 2016, RusAccreditation was accredited by the very reputable APLAC MRA group that consisted of the accreditation bodies of Australia, the U.S., Canada, Singapore, and Mongolia. Of course, the accreditation was preceded by a serious legislative, organizational and preparatory work. Getting back to the topic of the benefits for business, I’d venture to suggest that this event is of a fundamental significance among the measures taken by the Government in terms of the promotion of bringing Russian goods and services to foreign markets. Having signed the APLAC MRA, we sent an application for joining the ILAC MRA. We hope to have signed the Arrangement in Vancouver at the end of the year. After that, we’ll be able to authorize accredited laboratories to use the mark of the ILAC MRA on testing protocols. Such protocols will comply with the global principle “Tested once - accepted everywhere”. Businesses will get an opportunity to use them for compliance confirmation in most countries.

— Why APLAC? Probably, it would be reasonable to join the ILAC through the European cooperation for Accreditation (EA) or directly, like, for example, Kazakhstan?

— As I’ve said, to join the ILAC MRA, an accreditation body should be assessed by peer accreditation agencies of other countries. This assessment is performed not at the ILAC level, but at the level of a regional organization. Choosing the APLAC, we took into consideration that it unites the largest economies of the world, and, importantly, the largest target markets - China, India, Pakistan, as well as the U.S., Mexico, Iran, etc., which together with Russia comprise 26 economies of the Asia-Pacific region. And these are the largest economies with which we are either developing or planning to develop cooperation. In fact, we considered the variant with the EA some years ago. We even had a partnership program, and these connections are still maintained. But in this context, it’s important to bear in mind that the work of the EA always intersects with the formats of the European Union, i.e. non-member states of the EU have a special status within the club. As we see, mutual recognition within the EA doesn’t automatically grant access for non-EU countries to the European market. The certification mechanism in the EU is, so to say, very complicated: depending on a type of a product, a directive and a region, approaches differ. Let’s look at the European rules of wine export. It is directly stated that the European Commission registers particular laboratories of the third countries authorized to issue protocols needed for import. Laboratories are nominated by an official authority, which is not connected with their accreditation by the signatories of the EA or the ILAC. There’s only one Russian laboratory in the register, which was included there upon the recommendation of our Ministry of Agriculture. At the level of these rules, it was decided that the regulatory regime would be like this. For other types of products, it will most likely be different. For example, a certification body, which can be vested with a right to use foreign certificates, is more likely to ask for an inspection, additional examinations, etc. in order to ensure its risks. So, the EA membership is not the key to the European market per se, and, just like with the APLAC, it requires constant and meticulous bilateral work with the partner countries, the drawing up of “road maps” for almost all types of products. And it is a mandatory condition even to start the work. After joining the ILAC, we’ll have to work in such a way with all countries of the world, whilst now we’re focusing only on the states of the Asia-Pacific region. You’ve mentioned Kazakhstan. This state became the ILAC member directly, indeed. But by now, the rules have changed, and in Bangkok Kazakhstan joined the APLAC, because it is a regional accreditation organization which is involved in the mutual assessment procedure, and our colleagues from Kazakhstan are having such an assessment in the nearest future. We also shouldn’t forget that cooperation at the level of regional organizations is closer and more focused. The Bangkok meeting was attended by the heads of national accreditation bodies of the regional countries, and during five days they were discussing the urgent problems, the issues of cooperation, etc. It is exactly the events of such level where bilateral and multilateral confidence sets in, and consequently, mutually beneficial agreements are concluded.

—Let’s get back to such an important topic as export. Are there at least approximate estimations as to to what extent the expenses of Russian exporters will be reduced when Russian testing laboratories get an opportunity to use the APLAC MRA mark on their protocols?

— There are no special estimations, moreover, expenditures depend directly on the type of business. For large companies, these are usually time expenditures. Compared to production expenses, the money they have to pay for foreign certification and compliance confirmation is not significant. The situation is completely different for small and medium enterprises. For them, the cost of foreign testings is quite tangible. And in both cases, the principle “Tested once - accepted everywhere” is supposed to help to cut expenses and hasten the bringing of products to foreign markets. However, I’ll repeat myself, each economy, despite the declared principles of free trade, tries to limit the import of foreign goods within the existing regulations. Therefore, the APLAC MRA membership should be followed by bilateral agreements with particular economies. This process includes both bilateral cooperation with national accreditation authorities, and trade agreements at the political level.

— So, it turns out that the signing of the APLAC MRA doesn’t automatically solve the problem of recognition of certificates for the products exported by our manufacturers issued by the Russian laboratories?

— Not exactly. The APLAC has different member states, and each of them has its own specificity. For example, they can use different testing methods. You can even be accredited directly by an accreditation body of another state, but your protocol won’t be accepted because the method mentioned in it is not used in the recipient country. In order to use foreign testing techniques, it is necessary to translate, understand, and start using it in your practice at first, and this is the additional track for cooperation. There are states where the additional notification procedure for laboratories is required. And the lists of products, to which such additional requirements can be applied, can be widely different in different countries. The signing of the APLAC MRA agreement means that Russian products with our protocols can be brought to the markets of countries which don’t have additional requirements, and with countries where such procedures are necessary, we’ve got an opportunity to reach mutual agreements. I’ll emphasize once again that without the signing of the APLAC MRA, such a dialogue would be rather difficult. But the very next day after signing, in Bangkok, we had work discussions of bilateral agreements, in which we could implement bilateral accreditation programs, with the heads of accreditation bodies of particular economies. For example, we had a preliminary agreement with the head of the accreditation body of China that in early summer we’ll arrive at the understanding when, where and what protocols (Russian and Chinese) could be used in particular regulatory procedures. Besides, we plan to devise the problem of starting mutual accreditation programs. Of course, for now these are only work discussions. We are in such talks with some other, very important for us, economies of the region. I won’t name the exact countries for now, as we’re still at the very beginning of the process. It’s also necessary to understand that testing protocols recognition is extremely effective in the B2B sector, when customers or international organizations impose special requirements to products and services, and the consumer is bound by corporate rather than national standards. Often importers insist on testing by laboratories which are recognized within the ILAC MRA. During the latest year of my work as a head of RusAccreditation, I’ve received quite a lot of letters from Russian manufacturers and testing laboratories with the question when the recognition is going to happen, as their contractors want to see the ILAC MRA mark on testing protocols. That’s why mutual recognition and the membership in the APLAC MRA, and then the ILAC MRA, is specified as a milestone within the priority project of Russia’s Government aimed at export support.

— Will laboratories have to pass additional accreditation in order to get the APLAC MRA mark?

— There will be no additional accreditation. We won’t re-accredit our laboratories, as they’ve already completed the procedure established by law. At the same time, according to the law and our agreements with the APLAC and ILAC, we’ll have to formalize the status of the ILAC MRA mark and its usage by testing laboratories, and provide for particular conditions and requirements to those wishing to use this mark. We have to understand that international recognition is not only the right and additional opportunities, but also a greater responsibility. It doesn’t mean that at present we set the bar low for those working within the system, but the right to enjoy additional benefits, including those for entering foreign markets, imposes additional responsibilities on the participants of the process, particularly in the field of information cooperation with a national accreditation body, more prompt response in the case of problem detection, the increase of conscientiousness and transparency. Let’s consider, for example, the problem of access of foreign inspectors to our compliance assessment bodies. As I recall, late last year, when we organized an examination visit of the APLAC experts to our laboratories, the examinees’ attitudes varied: some willingly welcomed foreign colleagues, others steered clear of contacts and postponed the meetings. It clearly demonstrated the level of motivation of laboratories for the participation in international processes, therefore we think that those assessed by us together with the colleagues from the APLAC can be granted a right to use the ILAC MRA mark in the nearest future, as a bonus for cooperation. Speaking of setting the bar high. The APLAC and ILAC have a set of special documents containing the rules which are mandatory for all accreditation bodies which have signed the agreement, and the corresponding testing and calibration laboratories. That’s why the laboratories wishing to use the ILAC MRA mark, will have to commit to using these documents despite the fact that they haven’t even been published in Russia. Note that additional benefits from the ILAC MRA mark, and the more so additional responsibilities coming together with them, are necessary for by no means all. Business always counts the money, and if the work of the lab is not aimed at the assessment of foreign goods, it wouldn’t be reasonable for it to try to get the mark. We have many internal manufacturing laboratories which are not involved with products or working conditions assessment system. For example, let’s take the laboratories of water services companies which estimate the quality of water supplied to the population. Do they need this mark? That’s not likely. I think only 20-30% of testing laboratories are seeking the international recognition mark, and how many of them will actually demonstrate real interest, only time will tell.

— Do the RusAccreditation executives consider the possibility of the IAF membership, especially in terms of a current international political situation?

— Yes, absolutely, we have such a task. But the IAF is a certification authority. And while we’re going to the ILAC through the APLAC, of the IAF we had a serious discussion. Initially we had been planning to join it directly, and submitted the application in 2014. Eventually, the decision was made to join the IAF through the PAC. On 27 June 2017, Russia’s Government issued an order allowing RusAccreditation to join the PAC as a full member. We’ve submitted the application, and are planning to start this process in the nearest future. It is planned that in late 2018, a group of international PAC experts will come to Russia to assess the work of RusAccreditation. However, I’d like to emphasize that the membership of international organizations regulating the work standards of certification bodies, from the viewpoint of regulation, is much less important than that of laboratory accreditation bodies. Primarily because of the fact that, apart from standard compliance confirmation systems, many alternative and promising directions are being formed, which are beyond the scope of regulatory systems and are involved with various standards compliance certification. The number of such systems and requirements grows year by year, and these are not the regulators who set trends in this sphere, but the large customers, especially in the case of international trade. That’s why it is particularly important to move towards the IAF membership not within the “product certification” line, but within the “management system certification” direction, as it is becoming particularly significant in modern B2B relations giving manufacturers the opportunity to demonstrate their compliance to foreign markets. By the way, the “Support for the access to foreign markets and for export” road map includes special actions aimed at the development of particular programs and accreditation in new spheres. It will require the regulatory environment reformation, particularly the refinement of the Federal Law No 412 “On accreditation in the National Accreditation System” that will allow introducing different accreditation regimes for mandatory and voluntary accreditation. And we already have such initiatives.

— In your opinion, what is more beneficial for Russian business: RusAccreditation participation in the ILAC or in the IAF?

— I think they can be equally beneficial if we and businesses are able to use these benefits appropriately. As there are necessary and sufficient conditions. And the membership of these organizations is neither necessary nor sufficient for our products to enter foreign markets. At the end of the day, a business can invest in compliance confirmation procedures abroad. However, in terms of export development, the membership of both the IAF and the ILAC is a necessary condition.

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