Earthworms as Unique Trade Barriers

The Old Switcheroo

TÜV Rheinland supports companies that want to sell their goods abroad through its Market Access Service. Uwe Halstenbach was long co-responsible for ensuring that products fulfilled all of the target countries’ technical and regulatory requirements.

Mr. Halstenbach, are there standard market barriers – ‘classic’ ones, even?

Generally speaking, each country has highly specific, individual access restrictions in place for each industry and each product. There’s currently a lot of talk of ‘trade wars,’ and of course, import duties number among the classic hurdles. However, generally speaking, technical barriers also represent trade restrictions. For example, there are complicated approval processes, some of which can only be carried out in the target country and which are then, in the worst-case scenario, very time-consuming and costly. The problem lies in the fact that a product is first developed and tested, then manufactured. Approval for foreign markets often doesn’t factor in until the very end of this process – when a corresponding buyer has already been located. If the approval process for the target country is dragged out, that can have unpleasant consequences for agreed delivery times, for example. We can quickly provide assistance as far as this is concerned, in the form of resources such as our global network of experts.

Can you name some specific examples of this type of assistance?

A few years ago, a new regulation was suddenly introduced in Taiwan specifying that batteries for special products had to be inspected locally. We quickly built a laboratory and had it accredited for the local standard. That way, we can serve our Taiwanese customers promptly; you can only influence the duration of an inspection if you carry it out in your own laboratory. We did the same thing in India. In many cases, government agencies have accredited our laboratories for the desired local standards, or even approval procedures, outside of the respective country. That’s the case, for example, for certain electrical products for the South African market; we can inspect these for compliance with the relevant local standard in our Japanese laboratories, among other locations.

Do customers reach out to you when they’re in sticky situations – for example, if they can’t overcome market barriers?

Some of them turn to us when it already seems like it’s too late. In other words, their ship is already at the destination port, but their products can’t make it through to customers. In certain cases, even at that point, we can help with our local network – for example, we were able to help a drone manufacturer in Korea and an IT manufacturer in India. Otherwise, the goods have to be inspected locally – and that means an uncertain outcome and high customs warehouse fees. Not all of our work is so dramatic, though. For example, a major food manufacturer has been trying for years to sell their pizza in Iraq. They haven’t been able to do so yet because the country requires a certain protein content that the pizzas fall just shy of. We’ve submitted an application to the government to effect a customer-specific standard; we’re only able to do that because there’s a program in Iraq that allows for these kinds of applications.

Are there lots of those kinds of particular or bizarre market barriers in place?

Of course. For example, it usually suffices when computers are set to the most demanding hardware configuration during a security inspection. In India, though, a computer has to pass this inspection in all imaginable configurations, which naturally takes time and money. Or, for example, you have the concept of ‘compostable plastic.’ In Germany, plastic is placed on a compost heap during an inspection. If it decomposes after a certain period of time, it fulfills the import requirements. That doesn’t suffice in Australia, though. There, the earthworms in the compost are then inspected. The import requirements are only fulfilled if the earthworm population is stable. That’s a typical case, actually – international standards are often supplemented with regional particularities.

Picture credits: TÜV Rheinland/Hanne Engwald