DUBAI // Following years of casual enforcement, the rules to ensure the safety and quality of imported foods and consumer goods will be tightened significantly and be overseen by the federal authorities. The new regulatory regime, expected to be rolled out gradually next year, will fundamentally alter the way in which the Government determines if imported products - ranging from toothpaste to toys - are fit for consumption, said Mohammed Badri, deputy general director for the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA).
Mr Badri said while local governments historically have been tasked with enforcing product-safety and testing guidelines, the new system would essentially shift such responsibility to the ESMA, the federal body that sets product-safety benchmarks. The system is to be implemented in co-ordination with the five other GCC countries, streamlining product-safety rules along the lines of those of the European Union.
It is expected to help authorities seal gaps in customs standards at points of entry across the seven emirates and the GCC. Inconsistent standards are a major reason for the importation of some goods that are deemed either unsafe or unfit for consumption by observant Muslims. Mr Badri disclosed the plan following an investigation by The National this month that found scores of dangerous Chinese-made toys being sold in dozens of shops in Dubai.
"We've been holding many meetings with other GCC countries about the system," he said. "This system is very complex - it's not about one product, but about how the entire system will ensure the credibility of all products sold in the country." "We will be complementing the local governments, but their role will be to a lesser extent as compared to now." Under the new framework, incoming consumer goods to the UAE and GCC must bear a GCC CE Marking stamp on their packaging. The stamp concept mirrors a labelling system used in Europe, known as CE Marking, or Conformité Européene, which places the legal liability of conforming to rules and regulations on manufacturers.
CE Marking is essentially a visual marker used to regulate the flow of goods that meet European standards between member countries. It verifies that a certain product's standards conform, for instance, to EU health and environmental standards. Products found on store shelves that lack CE Marking can be easily identified and withdrawn. The new framework will ensure that products not conforming to safety standards can be withdrawn either at the point of entry into the UAE or once they have gone on sale.
A key component of the system, Mr Badri said, was that GCC nations would outsource product testing to the countries in which the goods were produced. Authorities would then co-ordinate with regulatory agencies in the country of origin to ensure that testing met GCC standards. By performing the tests in a controlled setting in the manufacturer's country, local governments in the UAE would be able to divert more resources towards ensuring that imported goods are GCC CE Marking-compliant. This is meant to save both federal and local authorities money and time that would have otherwise gone towards testing thousand of products that are already being sold on UAE shelves.
"Just putting that mark on a product is not enough," he said of the GCC CE Marking. "To use this mark, a manufacturer must comply with our requirements, and somebody should be certifying this abroad before it comes to GCC." "Instead of checking supermarket shelves to find if there are problems with products that are already in the UAE, we want to verify from the source. "We want to make sure that the source is right before it comes to the GCC and UAE, and not let everything come in and then inspect it."
The new system would strengthen measures used to verify if foreign-produced goods meet halal standards, Mr Badri also said. On the national level, he said, a more federally focused consumer-goods regulatory system would also help bring in line the seven emirates' variegated customs regimes and consumer-product guidelines. In some cases, such as with unbranded Chinese-made toys, Mr Badri acknowledged it was likely that some goods unfit for consumption had been brought illegally into the country.
"Any product that comes in must arrive with documents saying where it's coming from and such," he said. "With that, it's very easy to trace it back to see where manufacturer comes from. "Unfortunately, there are products here in which there are no names and brand listings." Another problem was that importers find easy points of entry - the so-called weak link in the customs chains - through which to bring in their goods.
"For example, a lot of companies may know the facilities for testing in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, so they may go to another emirate where they don't have to go through the same rigours," Mr Badri said. "That's why verifying from the source, before it comes here, is the right thing to do." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org