Trading relationships are built on, amongst other things, an important structure of standards, agreements, codes and regulations designed to ensure that when businesses and consumers buy something, they get exactly what they expect.
For these standards, agreements, codes and regulations to carry weight, they must be written and implemented rigorously and consistently in ways that give everyone involved a high level of confidence in the outcome.
It is the role of the National Quality Infrastructure (or NQI) to enable this consistent rigour. The NQI has five core components:
- Standardisation – creates the national and international standards that describe good practice in how things are made and done.
- Accreditation – ensures that those who carry out conformity assessment, testing, certification and inspection are competent to do so.
- Measurement – implements specifications and standards to ensure accuracy, validity and consistency.
- Conformity assessment – entails testing and certification to ensure the quality, performance, reliability or safety of products meet specifications and standards before they enter the market.
- Market surveillance – checks whether products meet the applicable safety requirements. If they do not, it involves taking the necessary steps to ensure requirements are met, or imposing penalties.
A recognised NQI supports and facilitates international trade and is an essential component of any free trade agreement. It underpins World Trade Organization rules on eliminating technical barriers to trade (TBTs) by the acceptance of international standards and the mutual recognition of conformity assessment results and regulatory equivalence.
The outcome is increased confidence in domestic and international markets, greater participation in global trade and a stronger balance of payments.
The UK’s NQI is largely delivered by four long-established and internationally respected institutions:
- BSI – The British Standards Institution is the UK’s National Standards Body responsible for producing national and international standards.
- NPL – The National Physical Laboratory is the UK’s National Measurement Institute responsible for maintaining the UK’s primary measurement standards that ensure the accuracy and consistency of measurement.
- UKAS – The United Kingdom Accreditation Service is the UK’s National Accreditation Body. UKAS accreditation assures the competence, impartiality and integrity of testing, calibration, inspection and certification bodies.
- OPSS – The Office for Product Safety and Standards (part of the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy) provides the regulatory and market surveillance infrastructure enabling businesses to export goods globally.
NQI’s impact on the UK national economy
Standards and Accreditation help to ensure business and consumers have confidence that the products and services they purchase meet regulatory requirements. In short, the benefits are:
- standards which create better, safer, more sustainable products
- knowledge from standards and measurement techniques to enable more innovation and faster commercialisation of innovation, creating new markets at home and abroad for UK businesses
- increased exports through reduction in technical barriers to international trade
- improved business performance and productivity, increasing domestic commercial activity and competitiveness in international markets
- removal of the need for duplications of standards, tests, regulations and accreditations, thus reducing the costs of international trade
- enhanced consumer protection
- strong representation in the international fora that shape the development of international rules for standards, accreditation and measurement
- increase in the appeal of the UK to overseas direct investors
UK Quality Infrastructure (UKQI)
UKQI can provide a comprehensive range of consultancy services to overseas governments wanting to build the capacity of their own National Quality Infrastructure. It also offers a range of specialist services.