Standards Impact Latin America

An interview with Roberto E. Montoya, CEO, Colombian Institute of Technical Standards and Certification (ICONTEC)

Are there particular areas or industries where you have seen the positive impact of the work of ICONTEC?

During its more than 56 years, ICONTEC has been able to positively impact different sectors. A priority in its mission as a national standards body has been to promote the competitiveness and growth of Colombia’s economic sectors through the development and implementation of standards, and by providing education, validation, verification, and certification services. 

One area worth highlighting is the plastic pipe sector, which through the adoption and implementation of standards has achieved significant innovations as well as improvement and growth both nationally and internationally. Likewise, the construction sector has been positively impacted by the adoption of standards, which have been fundamental to advancing the requirements of products that must be used to comply with the Earthquake Resistance Standard (the mandatory standard for buildings in Colombia).

What role does the Pan American Standards Commission (COPANT) play in Latin America? 

COPANT has become an association in which best practices can be shared and projects and positions can be consolidated for the benefit of standards bodies that are COPANT members. COPANT includes 30+ active member organizations across Latin America and North America plus nine adherent members from around the world. 

FOR YOU: Standards in Colombia

The support provided by COPANT to countries, particularly in terms of economic resources and capacity building, has been of great value in achieving more effective participation in international standardization forums and committees. It has also been valuable in the adoption of international standards as national standards. On the other hand, events organized by COPANT have allowed standardization bodies to share experiences and work together on solutions to common problems.

This year, the COPANT General Assembly will be held in Cartagena, Colombia, from May 5 to 8, and ICONTEC will be the host. The theme is “The Future of Standardization,” and we will cover important topics such as: the circular economy, cybersecurity, the internet of things, blockchain, and the sharing economy, among others. We expect to have more than 90 participants from different standards organizations. The president and executive secretary from the International Organization for Standardization [ISO] and representatives from IEC and ITU [International Electrotechnical Commission and International Telecommunication Union] will also participate. In addition, ASTM International will be presenting as part of the programming.

How does your organization approach conformity assessment? What is the importance of conformity assessment for ICONTEC and Colombia?

Entrepreneurs, consumers, and public officials have expectations about quality, safety, interoperability, efficiency, effectiveness, and the environmental sustainability of products and services. Conformity assessment provides the means to test products and services based on these expectations, in accordance with standards, regulations, and other specifications. 

Conformity assessment helps to ensure that products and services deliver on their promises. In other words, conformity assessment builds trust.

At ICONTEC, conformity assessment is a tool for compliance with standards and technical regulations, addressing voluntary and mandatory needs in Colombia and the countries where ICONTEC is present. This tool also improves the quality of organizations and their products and services with an integrated and sustainable approach. This helps with access to global markets and increases the competitiveness of companies and of the country, specifically in regulated fields, with a focus on protecting the life and health of users of products and services as well as protecting the environment and working conditions.

Conformity assessment is fundamental for all economies, especially for developing economies such as Colombia’s. We think that conformity assessment is a foundation in the structure of our National Quality System, and it is established in legislation in Colombia, where together with standardization and metrology, the laws support the country’s competitive strategy. The objectives of the strategy help ensure a better standard of living for citizens and the development of industry to achieve world-class performance.

With this direction, ICONTEC conceives of conformity assessment as one of its flagship services. Conformity assessment contributes to the ICONTEC mission and vision: to have a positive impact on the culture of quality and organizational sustainability, and on the confidence of purchasers, consumers, and end users of products and services. In this way, national and international trade and the development of the country are encouraged at all levels.

In 2001,  ICONTEC became the first standards body in Latin America to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ASTM International. Since then, more than two dozen countries in Latin America have signed MOUs. What positive outcomes has ICONTEC seen as a result of this partnership? What impact do you feel the MOUs have had throughout Latin America?

Transfer of technology is where we have seen the greatest impact from the signing of the memorandum of understanding with ASTM International. Being able to use ASTM standards as a reference and having access to training and workshops organized by ASTM has been a great help in solving technical problems, understanding standards, and in the correct adoption of standards by employers and other interested parties. Access to the full collection of ASTM standards for consultation by interested groups in Colombia is also very important.

ASTM has been an open body that has been willing to share its experience, and it has helped to improve our standardization process and increase benefits for different business sectors. Currently, ICONTEC has 6,476 technical standards, of which 779 have been based on ASTM standards.

The fact that several countries in the region have signed MOUs with ASTM will have a positive impact on the ability of organizations in the region to participate more actively with ASTM and will add a more international character to ASTM standards, leading to a more unified application of provisions for the benefit of different sectors and industries in the countries of the region.

What are ICONTEC’s organizational priorities?

According to our strategic planning and mission, we want to increase competitiveness in Latin America and lead the cultural transformation of the region’s organizations, which serve to ensure sustainable development objectives.

We plan to continue to innovate in our services and offer additional specialized services. We will also work with government to develop technical regulations to avoid technical barriers to trade. And we will focus on highlighting standards for children — and consumers in general — through digital and new media.

We will work toward reducing the development time of standards and on increasing participation from interested stakeholders. 

ICONTEC seeks to achieve greater dissemination and application of standards and the benefits 
that they bring for businesses, trade, and government, which increases competitiveness and protects consumers.

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