27 June – 3 July 2001

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Dissemination of standards – an ongoing process
Economic Services Minister Josef Bonnici last week gave a detailed description of the role of the Malta Standards Authority. The establishment of standards, Prof Bonnici explains, is increasingly becoming an important pillar of the new global trade system.


By Josef Bonnici
The establishment and dissemination of standards must be seen as an ongoing process that is increasingly becoming, more and more, an important pillar of the new global trade system. There has been a significant evolution since 1996, when the Malta Standards Authority – then known as the Malta Standardization Authority - was set up by an Act of Parliament in order to co-ordinate standardisation and other related activities in Malta. Since then, there has been a veritable re-definition of the MSA’s original mandate.

Thus, besides being the national standards body entrusted to adopt, publish and disseminate voluntary standards, MSA’s mandate is now very much broader and includes related standardization activities such as technical advice, notification of standards and co-ordinating testing, conformity assessment, accreditation and metrology activities in Malta. To this effect, the 1996 legislation was, last year, replaced by the new Malta Standards Authority Act.

As indicated in the Operations Review conducted within the Ministry for Economic Services, the MSA is being structured around a system of Directorates. Three directorates have already been established, namely Standardisation, Consumer and Industrial Goods and the directorate covering Foodstuffs, Chemicals and Cosmetics. Another directorate, Metrology, and Accreditation, is to be established later on this year. Through this process, the Malta Standards Authority is ensuring the functional separation of the various roles in the sense that the various arms of the Authority will be independent of each other, as regards to the decisions they take as well as financially. Co-ordination is assured through the link of each arm with the central organisation but each division will remain technically and financially independent. It is expected that this organisational set-up will ensure the rationalisation of resources, but not at the expense of hindering the proper functioning of each individual activity.

As part of the recent closure of the Chapter on the Free Movement of Goods, Malta has, amongst other things, introduced new concepts which are still being gradually implemented such as, just to mention a few:

• CE marking and the ‘New Approach’ principle, including the important distinction between regulations (which are mandatory by their nature) and standards (which are considered internationally as voluntary);

• The presumption of conformity, meaning that manufacturers can self-declare that their product/s conform to the essential requirements imposed in pertinent regulations, through conformity to voluntary standards;

• Mutual recognition of conformity assessment procedures, certificates and testing following the international principles of Accreditation;

• Market Surveillance, meaning not only ‘traditional’ enforcement practices, but also having the necessary administrative and technical infrastructure in place, ready to give advice to all economic operators, with the objective of avoiding breaches of regulations, before they can happen.

The Malta Standards Authority has also been instrumental in helping this Ministry introduce the concept of Product Safety as defined within the European Union. Each product placed on the market must be safe, when used for its intended purpose. The Product Safety Act came into force on 1st March 2001, repealing the Quality Control (Exports, Imports and Local Goods) Act of 1971. It implements the EU Council Directive 92/59/EEC of 29 June 1992, popularly referred to as the General Product Safety Directive. This measure forms part of the EU Acquis Chapter 23 that deals with Consumer Protection and seeks to establish a common framework for ensuring the safety of products sold or offered for use by consumers. It achieves this by:

• specifying that products supplied to consumers, whether for a consideration or provided free of charge, must be safe;

• defining a safe product;

• laying down a framework for assessing safety.

Government, industry, all other business players and consumers agree that there should be a specific requirement that ‘unsafe products should not be placed on our market’. The basic agreement that the law should forbid the marketing of unsafe products is a straightforward conclusion. What is more challenging is the practical development of an effective system to ensure product safety. How can the notion of ‘safety’ be given a common meaning? How can a product be judged as ‘safe’ or otherwise? And here we have the link between Product Safety and Standards; the Product Safety Act provides for the assessment of general safety as follows:

"9. (1) In the absence of specific rules, the conformity of a product to the general safety requirement shall be assessed having regard to -

(a) any relevant voluntary National Standards giving effect to a European Standard; or

(b) to any relevant European technical specifications, if any; or

(c) failing the above, to any other relevant National Standards as well as to codes of good practice in respect of health and safety, the state of the art and technology in the sector concerned, and to the standards of safety which consumers are reasonably entitled to expect.

(2) In this article, the terms "National Standard", "European Standard" and "technical specifications" shall have the meaning attributed to them in the Malta Standards Authority Act."

This cross-reference between the Product Safety Act and the Malta Standards Authority Act, and in conjunction with the Consumer Affairs Act, the Accreditation Legal Notice, the Metrology (draft) Act and the Food Safety (draft) Act, ensures consistency and coherence. The MSA has already made its valid contribution and is still actively involved in this important evolution. We are convinced that it will intensify its efforts to give all of its technical knowledge and backup. In part, this will be achieved through its eleven Expert Groups to be established in the immediate future, to assist and facilitate the implemention of the legal instruments that have been created.

Other secondary legislation that is being finalised by the MSA includes that covering Safety of Machinery, Lifts, Recreational Craft, and Construction Products, which establishes parameters for different categories of products, so as to ensure that such goods are placed on the Maltese market only if safe. It will also facilitate access to the EEA market, by local operators.

To conclude, a comprehensive standardisation strategy is indispensable when setting the course for the achievement of a sustained improvement in the economic and social well-being of Malta.



The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt