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Future of the Global Accreditation System - UKAS
News from United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS)

The Future of the International Global Accreditation System

Accreditation is used worldwide.  In most developed economies there is a body similar to UKAS.  UKAS is the UK signatory to European and international agreements that recognise equivalence of results provided by accredited organisations in other signatory countries. These agreements facilitate the removal of technical barriers to trade, enabling goods to move freely in international markets.  It is important for goods and services tested in or provided from the UK to be accepted worldwide without the need for additional evaluation and, increasingly, accreditation is the means chosen to achieve this. 

An international accreditation system therefore strengthens global trade, enabling UK exports to be accepted worldwide and imports to be accepted in the UK as meeting the specified technical requirements. Were accreditation to operate as a purely national system, it would reinforce barriers to trade.  As an international system, it effectively becomes a ‘passport’ for imports and exports. 

The recognition of accreditation in Europe, the US and Asia Pacific over the last few years, establishing a regular workshop with the World Trade Organisation Technical Barriers to Trade (WTO TBT) Committee, and the use of accreditation by UNIDO in the development of trade insfrastructures, confirms that regulators and the marketplace have greater confidence in the system. In October’s edition of the Journal of World Trade[1], Erik Wijkstrom and Devin McDaniels reported that 10% of global trade ‘concerns’ could be resolved by reliable conformity assessment, underpinned by international recognition agreements. 

The structure of global accreditation is divided into two levels: the regional level (The European Cooperation for Accreditation (EA) EA in Europe) and the global level (The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) for laboratory and inspection body accreditation, and the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) for certification activities). UKAS, like most Accreditation Bodies, is a member of both the regional and global associations. 

ILAC and IAF are both associations of accreditation body members from around the world. The membership of both organisations has grown by around 40% over the past 10 years, with ILAC counting 147 members representing 112 economies. EA now counts 34 members. 

Except for a dedicated full-time Secretariat, these associations are operated and managed by the active voluntary involvement of its members. This involvement remains a key principle in establishing consensus and a common approach, if the aim is to establish and enhance confidence in the operation of accreditation activities by accreditation body members. 

However as these organisations increase in size, so does the complexity of managing and operating a larger organization. The costs of hosting and participating in meetings also rise accordingly. In some cases, new members are also joining the associations initially to receive the benefit, rather than with the purpose of contributing to the development of the global system. 

In Europe, Regulation (EC) No 765/2008 provides a legal framework for the provision of accreditation services in both the voluntary and regulated sectors. The Regulation places an obligation on EU Member States to accept results issued by the conformity assessment bodies accredited by any of the EA MLA signatories. UKAS therefore needs this organisation to be effective if it is to be effective in itself. The decisions taken by ILAC and IAF determine the nature of the accreditation that UKAS and its equivalent bodies offer, and so it is essential that there is a strong UK voice in each of these organisations.

The issue facing the regions and the global associations is the competition for the same scarce resource. The ability to contribute to technical committees, working groups, peer evaluations, and general assemblies at both the regional and global level already puts a strain on member resources.

At the recent IAF-ILAC Joint General Assembly meetings in Seoul, a session led by Vagn Anderson, from the Danish Accreditation Body (DANAK), focused on the relationship between the regional and global associations. He noted that as the work is being done by the same limited pool of individuals, whether at the regional or global level, it is essential that it is only done once and in the most cost effective manner. For ILAC and IAF to cope with the increasing demand for resources, there needs to be better use of the resources in the regions. If sufficient and qualified resources are allocated to issues of global impact, it is vital that these issues are dealt with at one level, and not in parallel. 

Harmonisation of the global and regional work can only be achieved if there is a common and agreed understanding of the separation of activities and responsibilities. There will need to be full support from the regions and the global associations at the Executive levels in the allocation and execution of work items. While regional associations will have to meet the needs of regional regulation and stakeholder requirements, the global strategy for the development of accreditation must be dealt with at the global level. 

ILAC and IAF members voted against a merger in 2009, and while much work has been done to coordinate meeting schedules and some work activities, there is still duplication of work and a level of cost associated with having two separate associations. 

Both ILAC and IAF are currently in the process of setting out their strategic plans for the next five years. The relationship between the two organisations, and their interaction with the regional associations, is a core strategic issue. Models are being explored to effectively resource the peer evaluation to ensure that the arrangements maintain credibility with the marketplace, as well as being able to respond to market need. Consideration will be given to the minimum contribution required from each member, and seeking ways of compensating those members that provide significant input. 

While a merged organization will not be realised in the next five years, it is clear from the recent remarks made by Randy Dougherty, IAF Chair, and Pete Unger, ILAC Chair, that ‘the futures of IAF and ILAC are intertwined’.  The organisations regularly present a single voice to global influencers such as the WTO, UN and the EU Commission. There are a growing number of work programmes that are ‘joined up’, and efforts to align common terminology and documents. Looking beyond 2020 and the next strategic planning period, the need and political will for two separate entities is likely to have diminished, and the aspiration of ‘tested, inspected or certified once, accepted everywhere’ can be delivered by a single global association. 

[1] Journal of World Trade Improving Regulatory Governance: International Standards and the WTO TBT Agreement by Erik Wijkstrom and Devin McDaniels (October 2013)

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