Navigating Export Certification in Africa with SGS

Africa is rapidly emerging as a significant player in the global economy, with its middle class growing and industrialisation on the rise. European businesses are well-positioned to meet the increasing demand for goods and services. However, doing business in African markets presents their own challenges, including navigating the complex landscape of export certification and product conformity assessment.

2nd of July 2024 Member Spotlight

To shed light on these challenges and the solutions available, we spoke with Annecarlijn de Brouwer-de Vries, the Account Manager – Trade Facilitation Services (TFS) at SGS, a long-term strategic partner of the Netherlands-African Business Council (NABC). With nearly a decade of experience at SGS, Annecarlijn helps companies identify and obtain the necessary certifications for exporting to African destinations.

The Importance of Product Conformity Assessment

Export certification is crucial for businesses looking to enter African markets. Local governments have established specific rules and regulations for a wide range of products. This results in the Product Conformity Assessment programs with the required Certificate of Conformity for each shipment. “Clients or any exporters who want to export to countries in Africa have to comply with these regulations. Sometimes it is a complex process. We, at SGS, not only certify but also help navigate this very complex process,” says Annecarlijn.

The certification process ensures that products meet high standards of quality, safety, and environmental regulations, which is essential for gaining market access. As Annecarlijn points out, “Almost every company that exports to Africa needs product certification to confirm that their products meet the relevant local standard.”

This certification not only facilitates market entry but also assures local customers of the product’s quality. “For example, in Kenya, the product conformity assessment program from Kenyan Bureau of Standards is very thorough and requires exporters to present a lot of product documentation. Local authorities are, I would say, very protective of the local business and the people. And that means more rules to comply with, more challenges for exporters, but it makes sense. It helps keep local people safe by ensuring only high-quality products enter the market.” This emphasis on local protection underscores the importance of adhering to regulations and securing proper certification.

Challenges and Solutions in Export Certification

One of the main challenges exporters face is the variation in regulations from one African country to another. For example, exporting beer to Tanzania involves different requirements than exporting to the Côte d’Ivoire. “In both cases, an analytical report is necessary, but what needs to be analysed will differ,” explains Annecarlijn. This complexity requires a thorough understanding of local regulations, which SGS provides.

SGS operates under contracts with local authorities, ensuring compliance with specific standards. “We work directly with the local authorities for the countries of destination, like the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, with whom we have a multi-year contract,” Annecarlijn notes. This close collaboration ensures that products meet local standards, thereby facilitating smoother market entry.

The diverse regulatory landscape in Africa means that businesses must be well-prepared and informed about each country’s specific requirements. “At SGS, we operate under contracts with authorities who determine the scope of our certification. For example, with products like fertilizer, which require strict scrutiny but are not prohibited, we follow the guidelines set by these authorities.”

The Role of SGS in Ensuring Compliance

SGS stands out due to its extensive network of 2,650 offices and laboratories worldwide, and its deep expertise in local regulations. “With SGS, you can be confident that your goods comply with local rules and requirements,” says Annecarlijn. This is crucial for companies looking to avoid delays and additional costs associated with non-compliance.

The certification process at SGS is thorough. For example, Annecarlijn describes the process for certifying animal feed in Uganda: “We check Uganda’s regulations, which mandate a test report to ensure the feed meets minimum quality standards. After analysing the feed, we verify its compliance with the limits and check for additional requirements, such as labelling.” This rigorous approach ensures that products meet all necessary standards before they are exported.

Moreover, the certification process can adapt to new challenges, such as the rise of digital inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our inspections can be physical or digital. Digital inspections, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, allow us to connect with clients via an app and inspect the products remotely. Once all steps are completed and verified, we issue the certificate of conformity. This process ensures a thorough quality check, whether for animal feed, laptops, or any other product, adhering to relevant standards and regulations.”

The Future of Export Certification in Africa

Looking ahead, SGS sees numerous opportunities to support trade and regulatory compliance in African markets. The company is continually expanding its services and capabilities. “We are now offering a new service for any export furnace, although this isn’t directly related to regulatory aspects,” Annecarlijn mentions. SGS is also involved in local capacity development and ESG initiatives, further contributing to sustainable trade practices.

SGS’s extensive network and deep expertise make it an invaluable partner for companies looking to export to Africa. Whether it’s ensuring compliance with local regulations, providing thorough product testing, or supporting capacity development, SGS plays a crucial role in facilitating international trade and safeguarding quality and safety standards.

Our company is vast, with extensive services and a significant global presence, including a major facility in Spijkenisse near Rotterdam with over 800 employees. Globally, SGS employs nearly 100,000 people. Recently, we appointed a new global CEO, a woman, which is particularly notable in our traditionally male-dominated industry.

Empowering Exporters in Africa

Exporting to Africa presents both significant opportunities and challenges. Navigating the complex landscape of export certification is essential for success. With its extensive network, deep expertise, and commitment to quality and safety, SGS is well-positioned to help companies meet the regulatory requirements and tap into the growing African market. As Annecarlijn de Brouwer-de Vries emphasises, “With SGS, you can be confident that your goods comply with local rules and requirements, ensuring easy market access.”

By partnering with SGS, exporters can ensure their products meet stringent local standards, gain market entry efficiently, and contribute to the safety and well-being of local populations. SGS’s role in providing reliable certification and navigating regulatory landscapes is invaluable for businesses looking to succeed in Africa’s dynamic markets.