Import Verification Scheme finally comes of age

By Charles Ongwae

Over a decade ago, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) unveiled a program that has changed the face of standardization and conformity in the country.

Managed by the national standards body on behalf of the Government of Kenya, the Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) is a system whereby imports are inspected at source and issued with Certificates of Conformity (CoCs) to facilitate import into the country. For used motor vehicles, the equivalent is a Certificate of Roadworthiness (CoR).

Having been in operation since its launch in 2005, the PVoC system has developed into a critical cog in Kenya’s international import trade with an average  compliance rate of 94% (for goods imported in the current financial year from July – December 2017). Such has been the success of the program that it has become an object of study and benchmarking by African and other countries as they seek to ensure compliance with national standards for goods imported into their countries. Kenya is acknowledged as a pioneer in the implementation of the PVoC program that has now become popular across Africa.

The PVoC services are provided by KEBS appointed global inspection companies who are procured through a competititive international open tender process for a contract period of three years. The current contract has expired and the following companies presented the most competititve bids for the next phase of the contract period:

  1. Intertek Internal Ltd
  2. Societe Generalle De Suiveillance (SGS)
  3. China Certification & Inspection Group (CCIC)
  4. Cotecna Inspection SA

Importers are urged to log to www.kebs.org for details of the regions that have been allocated to these inspection companies.

Under the PVoC arrangement, the inspection agents are required to inspect all imports, with the exception of raw materials, machines and spares imported by local manufacturers. But their scope does not end there;  they will also be  required to undertake destination inspection at the ports of entry for petroleum products.

Critical to this process is the fact that while the pre-export verification is done in the country of supply, the inspection agents have to refer to and be solely guided by Kenyan standards and specifications as a basis for validating conformity.

The PVoC system almost offers a failsafe system, ensuring compliance at point of dispatch, and in some cases where it is deemed necessary, validating the same at port of entry.

Besides these roles, the system has greatly helped in protecting the health and safety of consumers as well as the environment; facilitating trade by ensuring that compliant goods are given expedited clearance at the port of entry; protecting the country from unfair trade practices and dumping of substandard goods by ensuring that imported goods comply with the same requirements to which locally manfactured goods are subjected to and most importantly, safeguarding the country’s overall security.

Guided by the need for continual improvement and based on what has been observed and learnt, KEBS has over the years taken a number of measures to tighten and improve the PVoC system. A key initial step was to increase the number of inspection agents per country. This resulted in at least three active inspection agents in the key origin countries like the UAE, China, United Kingdom and India.

The standards organization has also actively upped surveillance, both at the port and within the market outlets. Working with the Kenya Revenue Authority, KEBS has instituted mandatory joint destination inspection for goods not accompanied by CoCs before they are passed on to Customs. Goods arriving without CoC must be inspected, tested and if found to comply they are issued with a local CoC before being released.

Among the raft of measures taken by KEBS to ensure greater compliance and to seal any potential loopholes, is the institution of the rule requiring container load shipments from the UAE and China to be sealed by the inspection agents at source. Another key innovation has been the introduction of an e-certificate. As a result of this measure, KEBS now relies on CoC data uploaded into the KenTrade Single Window database for cargo clearance. Subsequently, inspection agents do not have to print CoCs on security paper as used to happen previously. Internally, KEBS has also invested in growing its testing capacity, with the construction and equipping of modern laboratory facilities both in the port city of Mombasa, the Lake Region and Nairobi.

The author is the Managing Director, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) ongwaec@kebs.org

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