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Samar Azmashly

Quality Insider

EU Funds Largest Quality Project in Syria

After many years of industry protectionism, the Al Jawda project poses the greatest challenge to Syrian companies.

Published: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 14:30

(Eurojar: Damascus, Al-Hayat) -- Syria has decided to open its economy to the world after long years of centralized economy and to broaden its economic options east and west. Despite the opposition of the United States, it is also striving to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), which includes representatives from 135 states that control 90 percent of world trade. It joined the Great Arab Free Trade Agreement (GAFTA) in the beginning of 1998. Moreover, Syria’s signature of the partnership agreement with the European Union (EU) is imminent today. Hence, Syria is undoubtedly faced with great challenges that await its companies and factories, which have, for many years, become used to protectionism in facing the great multinationals that strive to dominate global markets.

According to official numbers from the Ministry of Economy, there's a large proportion of quality violations that last year reached 45 percent for nonfoodstuff products and 29 percent for foodstuff products in Aleppo, the stronghold of Syrian industry. In addition, there are some transactions that were canceled or trade operations that tainted the reputation of Syrian products. Consequently, quality has become the most urgent matter for any national industrial or services establishment that produces goods or offers services that meet the needs and expectations of customers, and that have appropriate and competitive prices.

Hence, herein lies the importance of the Project for Strengthening Quality Management, Capabilities and Infrastructure in Syria, which was launched by the Syrian Minister of Industry, Fouad Aljouni, for “supporting Syrian efforts to attain a high level of quality for Syrian products, reinforce their competitiveness, and access to global markets.”

The project, which has been under preparation since 2006 and in cooperation with the EU, is one of the largest EU projects in Syria, with a value exceeding €12 million ($17.2 million). Fully running since May 2008, it is expected to continue for four years.

Project objectives

The overall objective of the project is to reinforce all elements of the Syrian quality infrastructure: standardization, conformity assessment, market surveillance and inspection, accreditation, and metrology.

In particular, the project aims to develop technical regulations and standards, develop systems to assess whether products live up to those standards, and to apply these systems in selected industrial sectors in a manner that is in accordance with international requirements and rules. “This project will enable Syria to achieve the requirements of the Syrian-European partnership agreement and help it join the WTO, and benefit optimally from the bilateral and regional agreements signed with a number of neighboring countries,” Aljouni says.

Aljouni hopes to see through this project an assessment of the current situation and the achievements of the ministry taken into consideration, especially the content of the national quality policy document, which guarantees the foundations of the national quality infrastructure that is being sought. It is notable that the Syrian government committed in the national document to “strengthen and develop national legislation for authorizations and issuing conformity certifications for facilitating trade, increasing exports, raising the frequency of economic development, as well as environmental protection, consumer health and safety.” The document also states that “Syria is looking forward in the coming two decades to offer support to the Syrian society for economic, social, and technical progress, and to reach in the coming five years an effective national quality infrastructure that would meet international requirements.”

In practice, the philosophy of Syrian companies is based on “manufacturing products and offering products in a faster and cheaper manner, then striving to sell them on the market, and offering after-sales service to fix their apparent defects.” However, today, and according to the quality project's director, Georges Ghadban, “Syrian products are confronted today with international customers who demand to have a product with a competitive global price, strong and competitive quality, and rapidity in meeting demands. A company’s strategy based on offering a lower price at the expense of quality is no longer valid, as the global market requires the company to move to a new dynamic concept of quality, which involves a balance between design, production, pricing, and supply delay, in a manner that meets the demands of the ever-changing international customers,” he points out.

Ghadban also says that the project comes within the context of the technical assistance offered by the EU to the national quality infrastructure in view of improving the competitiveness of Syrian products and entering regional agreements. He considers that “establishing efficient quality management systems is based on implementing ISO 9001 in companies, to improve efficiency and productivity, as this standard is convenient for the corporate management system that helps a company benefit optimally from the currently implemented EU rules.”

Drawing up a clear policy

Ghadban says that the main objective of the Al Jawda project is to support the quality infrastructure development in Syria. This allows the entrance of Syrian products to foreign markets, which becomes possible if the quality infrastructure components are reliable and in conformity with international standards. According to him, the current status of the quality infrastructure in Syria is characterized by mandatory specifications and the absence of a national quality council, of a measurement (metrology) system working according to international measuring units, as well as the lack of authorities that issue conformity certificates, the lack of internationally accredited laboratories, and weak market surveillance of products during and after production.

Experts summarize the obstacles that prevent the application of quality management systems in Syria by the reliance on individual initiatives, and especially by the fact that family companies based on fast profit prevail in the Syrian economy. This is in contradiction with the introduction of efficient quality management systems such as ISO 9001 and global quality management systems, as they are based on group participation, long-term planning, and trustworthiness to gain customers on a permanent basis.

Moreover, obstacles are reflected in the absence of a clear policy for the future of the Syrian industry, the generally poor knowledge in companies, and the limited information available on global scientific and technological progress. This is in addition to a wrong approach to standardization in general and ISO 9001 in particular, as many industrialists considered it at one point as a “passport” to foreign countries. Hence, many of them relied on certification bodies that weren't internationally recognized to obtain the certification, without really making any actual development changes in the companies and their programs. This was done in view of saving money and achieving rapid profits and to accelerate the entrance to global markets.

Rallying around the tax system and obtaining more profits is in contradiction with the Al Jawda system, in addition to the poor financial situation of citizens and the high cost compared with direct productivity.

Restructuring the Syrian Arab Standards and Metrology Organization

The project also aims at supporting the National Quality Council and the Regulatory Commission; assistance in organizing the work of the two institutions after the publication of their establishment decrees; setting an implementation program for the national quality policy; assistance in implementing it; and drafting the technical legislation through updating the legislation related to products. The project’s scope of work was restricted to six priority sectors: machinery, electrical appliances, building materials, food products, textile, and detergents. The updating and development of legislation and standards are supposed to take place in conformity with global requirements, including the European legislation.

Ghadban assures that talk about policies involves the assessment of conformity, accreditation, measurements, standards, and technical legislation. He also says that the project considers the restructuring of the Syrian Arab Standards and Metrology Organization (SASMO) as the cornerstone for the development of the quality infrastructure as it is an organization that is currently in charge of legislation, testing, conformity assessment, measurements, and standards.

Moreover, Ghadban assures that in the end of the restructuring process, Syria will have a national standards body that will be established and organized according to the WTO and EU principles, and that will issue voluntary standards that are clearly differentiated from mandatory technical legislation.

Ghadban compares the quality infrastructure to the “olive tree that needs time to give fruits, and permanent commitment from the higher administration in order to support it and reap its fruits.” He emphasizes the fact that the Al Jawda program cannot cover all the quality infrastructure needs in Syria, but is considered a cornerstone for developing the quality system according to global practices. He calls for an increased awareness on the requirements of the project and its benefits on all levels, as well as for the necessary commitment of all the sides that are involved in the tasks and responsibilities entrusted to them according to the program’s plan.

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About The Author

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Samar Azmashly

Samar Azmashly is a journalist who writes for Eurojar.org, a part of a multimedia project that was launched by the European Commission in the south and east regions of Mediterranean countries.