Pacific Quality Infrastructure Project Builds Momentum

Above: “Helping our communities thrive and improve quality of life…” PIF Deputy Secretary General Dr Filimon Manoni delivers opening remarks to the inaugural Pacific QI event on March 5.  

ForumSec, SUVA/ March 8, 2021— The Pacific Quality Infrastructure (PQI) project held its inaugural meeting on Friday 5th March, marking formal progress with the virtual networking event amongst Forum Islands Countries (FICs).
Organised by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in its role as lead coordinator, the inaugural online meeting for the multi-million-dollar PQI project brought together newly appointed National QI Focal Points from FICs, with the PIFS QI Unit, led by Dr Ulrich Diekmann as Regional QI Coordinator.
Dr Diekmann updated country representatives from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu on the current state of project implementation.
The project is part of the broader Pacific QI Initiative (PQII) and is funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework, Australia the European Union. Technical assistance is provided by PTB, the German Metrology Institute.
Welcoming the Senior Pacific representatives to the inaugural event, PIFS Deputy Secretary General Dr Filimon Manoni urged them to “make the most of this unique opportunity to shape the Pacific QI Initiative and to support the PQI project so that it delivers great results, helps our economies thrive and improves quality of life through reliable and recognised QI services.”
He noted the meeting today follows years of preparation and consultations between the Pacific countries with development partners and international QI institutions.
The focus of the PQI project for 2021 will be to establish regional QI frameworks for standardisation, metrology, conformity assessments, and quality promotion for all FICs. It will also provide an extra layer of support to the Pacific’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, to assist with addressing challenges faced by priority export sectors.
QI is one of the priorities of the Pacific Aid-for-Trade Strategy 2020-2025, due to its significance to promoting and sustaining trade development. QI can also play a significant role in mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19 and support post-COVID recovery. —ENDS

Q and A with Ulrich Diekmann
PIFS Regional Quality Infrastructure Coordinator

1. What is quality infrastructure, and why is it important for Pacific trade?

Generally, quality infrastructure is understood as the system of public and private organisations, policies, regulations, and practices needed to ensure the safety, quality, and environmental impact of goods, services, and processes. Quality infrastructure is required for the effective operation of the domestic markets in the pacific region and enables access by pacific products to foreign markets. It contributes to removal of technical barriers to trade (TBT) through harmonisation and mutual recognition of standards, technical regulations, and procedures for testing and calibration, certification, and inspection.

2. What are the biggest challenges our countries face with bringing in quality standards, and how are they dealing with them?

Compliance with international quality standards requires access to recognised QI services such as testing laboratories and certification bodies. In the Pacific, this access is limited which deeply affects the countries’ economic competitiveness, the safety of their goods and services, and the quality of life of their citizens. The Pacific QI project will establish regional QI frameworks and support Pacific island countries in accessing relevant QI services.

3. Adapting to global quality frameworks doesn’t happen overnight, how has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on Pacific quality infrastructure work?

Despite its devastating impact on the countries’ economic performance, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the significance of reliable test results, and the use of standardised personal protective equipment (e.g. facial masks) and procedures (e.g. sampling for virus testing). It is expected that quality infrastructure services will gain more attention and appreciation in the wake of the pandemic. They will play an important role in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and support post-COVID recovery.

4. At the end of the day, people just want to see the benefits to their lives from these major regional projects. What differences will people notice under quality infrastructure ways of doing business—and when should they expect those changes?

I consider a regional approach the only feasible and sustainable option for Pacific Island countries to access quality infrastructure services needs for their economies and people. However, this approach will require close cooperation and division of labour among Pacific Island countries which is based on transparency and mutual trust. It also requires growing a ‘quality culture’ across all parts of society to become the driver for better quality products and services for all citizens in the Pacific. The Pacific QI project supports this cultural shift by rolling out a regional quality promotion program.

5. Finally, you’ve been doing this work for some time—what do you enjoy most about quality infrastructure and its role in sustainable development?

I have been working in these kind of projects for the past 20 years and I still find it fascinating due to the tremendous impact of quality infrastructure on all facets of life. Most of the time, quality infrastructure is invisible, and people take their benefits for granted. To sensitise and educate people about the role of quality infrastructure is a never-ending a very rewarding task.

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