The Hub and Spokes II Programme provides trade experts to national ministries and regional trade organisations to enhance trade capacity in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states.
It is a joint Programme of the European Union (main donor), ACP Group Secretariat, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
Samuel Yeboah, a trade adviser, has been working with the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Lesotho since 2014. Read his blog below:
Lesotho is a lower-middle income country with a population of around two million, whose borders are flanked by South Africa. The landscape is predominantly hilly and largely unsuitable for agriculture. The country has experienced average growth in recent years, dropping to 2 per cent in 2014. Services account for 60 per cent of value added activity, split between industry and agriculture. The economy remains largely undiversified in terms of products and markets, increasing the country’s susceptibility to economic shocks.
Working with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I have been assisting with building the country’s trade capacity domestically through various negotiation and policy processes, as well as training initiatives. Boosting understanding of the public and private sectors in trade requirements has been an essential step for trade development.
To access larger markets, it is imperative that Lesotho pursues economic integration with other member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the wider international community. With a limited resource base, it is vital for the country to emphasise value-adding economic activities, such as manufacturing, to maximise the potential of available natural resources. One significant way of doing this, is for Lesotho to develop ‘quality standards’ infrastructure to improve production processes.
Laboratories are a less well known aspect of trade capacity and are responsible for carrying out sampling tests and calibrations to ensure adherence to international product standards. Products or production processes can then receive certification. Accreditation is the process of providing recognition to a conformity assessment body. It is extremely important for laboratories to develop effective administrative and technical operations to carry out these functions.
Besides calibration and testing, laboratories need to have sound business processes to enable them to deliver technically accurate calibrations and tests to their clients. For laboratories concerned with demonstrating competence, the appropriate international standard is ISO/IEC 17025. Throughout the world many countries now rely on accreditation as a means of independently evaluating laboratory competence. Unfortunately, test results from local Lesotho laboratories are not currently recognised because the laboratories are not accredited.
The training we offer provides help to get products recognised in regional and international markets. This enhances export capacity and the country’s international competitiveness. As part of a five-day training workshop held in Maseru, funded by the Hub and Spokes II Programme, we have organised a training workshop for public and private sector laboratories on ISO/IEC 17025. This training covered issues of enhancing competence and attitudes towards understanding standard requirements, the development of suitable quality manuals, maintenance of quality management systems in laboratories, the methods of validation and measurements training, and auditing skills in the SADC accreditation process.
In total 25 participants have been trained from public and private sector laboratories, of which more than half were women. Participants came from a diverse range of sectors, including the medical field, agricultural research, water research, forensic security, minerals research, pharmaceuticals, energy, construction and academia. All of the participants, except one, passed the training and can begin to introduce ISO/IEC 17025 standards to their respective laboratories, and to apply for the necessary accreditation. In addition, given the success of the training, there have been calls to offer the Programme to executive management staff who have the authority to make changes to laboratory practices.
I am pleased to be helping improve Lesotho’s export capabilities and reduce technical barriers to trade through the strengthening of standards and compliance processes.