How can digital and green transformations improve quality infrastructure in trade

Technologies can enhance commerce if clear international standards are in place to ensure that their use is harmonized between trading partners, and if there is regulatory coherence among countries.

Ways in which digital and green transformations can improve quality infrastructure for trade in support of sustainable development was the main theme of the annual session of the UNECE Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies (WP.6), held from 7 to 9 November 2022. Expert stakeholders discussed a number of areas where WP.6 will be able to make progress in the coming months.

The surge in the volume of exchanges brought about by e-commerce requires rethinking how conformity is tested. Relying on digital solutions could minimize supply chains disruptions. Furthermore, specific technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can improve risk assessment for conformity and market surveillance. For example, virtual meetings and the use of drones could allow for cost savings by reducing travel by inspectors and thus carbon footprint.

However, these transformations can pose a number of challenges. “The regulatory landscape has changed and digital innovations increase the complexity,” noted Chair of WP.6 Heidi Lund of the Swedish National Board of Trade. “Technical regulations risk to quickly become outdated for innovative products, such as those using artificial intelligence. Compliance models and strategies for enforcement of compliance need to be re-evaluated for digital products.”

Experts noted that the 40-year-old product safety regime within the European market is based on the notion that the product, producer, harm and market are static. However, that may no longer be the case in light of rapidly changing digital and green transformations, and advanced technologies.

Micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises are important innovators and likely to contribute to digital and green transformations. As smaller entities, they are often more agile than their larger counterparts and can integrate new technologies and contribute to green transformations more easily. But they need access to information and clear environmental regulatory policies in order to succeed.

WP.6 experts also underlined the importance of looking at digital and green transformations through a gender lens. Indeed, some technologies may affect women differently than men and these concerns should be taken into consideration.

Moving forward, WP.6 plans to study new recommendations on digital and green transformations and their relevance for quality infrastructure for trade. WP.6 provides a platform for the exchange of experiences in this area. It will also continue to discuss circular economy and the impact that repurposed or upcycled goods may have on conformity assessment.

If you would like to join in the discussion, please send a message to the secretariat at [email protected].

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