The European Union offers many opportunities for African exporters but, as it is a highly regulated common market, gaining access can be challenging. Trade laws and quality requirements are often very complex and, for entrepreneurs in particular, navigating these waters can be difficult. The EU is nevertheless a highly desirable market and new opportunities are constantly opening up. Being ready and able to take advantage of these could mean the difference between success and failure as an exporter.
At present, the EU imports goods to the value of EUR150 billion from Africa every year (source: Eurostat), but there is plenty of room for growth. Current exports are made up predominantly of resources and commodities, so there is a very real gap for high-quality manufactured goods. What, then, is the best way in which to take advantage of this opportunity?
Two of the greatest challenges facing African companies that wish to export to the EU are the lack of infrastructure and the scarcity of the skills required to manufacture added-value goods. This is something that needs to be addressed at national and regional level as well as at business level. Individual companies need to begin by making sure that they are properly equipped to compete in terms of both price and quality with goods from all over the world. And, through industry associations and chambers of commerce, they should also be involved in lobbying for necessary improvements to national and regional infrastructure.
Ensuring that products and production facilities are compliant with EU quality and safety regulations is the next step. This is where UL has such an invaluable service to offer. With 120 years of experience in certification, testing, validation, auditing and consulting, we can help companies not only to access the EU, but to flourish there.
Here it is important to make the point that quality and regulatory assessments should be built into the R&D and manufacturing process right from the start. It is, for instance, advisable to submit plans and prototypes for fit-for-market testing as soon as these have been finalised. Thorough and rigorous testing at this early stage may reveal design or technical issues that need to be addressed before the product can be exported, and will give the company sufficient time to make necessary improvements.
There are several benefits to undertaking quality testing at key points in the development and production process. Firstly, it allows companies to identify quality, safety and regulatory issues as soon as they arise and to address these without making any unnecessary investments in time, plant, equipment and materials if the product is not fully certified for export. Secondly, identifying issues as soon as possible will prevent later delays in taking the product to market once it is in production.
UL has a strong, established footprint in the EU, and is able to draw on industry experts to assist in the certification process for both the EU as a whole and for individual member countries. The UL stamp of approval is widely accepted as a reliable indicator of quality and safety. Some large retail chains, for example, will not import consumer goods unless they have been tested and certified by UL.
With our solid track record in many different sectors, UL is perfectly positioned to assist manufacturers in gaining and maintaining access to the highly desirable EU market.
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