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The Challenge of Import Regulations in Africa and The Middle East

March 25, 2022

Africa and the Middle East have made considerable efforts in recent years to catch up with other economic regions (EU, Americas, Asia) in terms of protecting their citizenry against substandard and hazardous products. We look at its effect on trade and the solutions that are available to exporters.

Rise in Technical Regulations

More and more countries are implementing strict regulatory regimes to control the importation of goods into their markets.

Indicators of this growing trend:

  1. Record numbers of countries establishing import regulations – including Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe
  2. Notifications sent to the World Trade Organization (WTO) – as of December 31, 2021, notification by the Middle East and Africa combined accounts for 30% and 35% of the world total for sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT) measures, respectively1

Under the WTO TBT Agreement, every WTO member country has the right to establish technical regulations to protect its ‘legitimate’ objectives. Legitimate objectives include, but are not confined to:

  • Product quality
  • Protection of human, animal or plant life or health
  • Protection of the environment
  • Prevention of deceptive practices
  • National security
  • Geographical considerations
  • Religious practices
  • Cultural issues and other country-specific objectives

As both African and Middle Eastern regions speed up economic and social development, the current upward trend of imposing regulations on a wider list of products will continue.

Common Issues Hampering Exporters

Exporters, including manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, engaged in trade with African and Middle Eastern countries are now facing more regulatory hurdles that are technical in nature. Successfully negotiating these barriers requires a thorough and proper understanding of the rules.

Regulations cover a wide range of both consumer goods and commercial/industrial products, varying from country to country. ‘Proofs of conformity to local standards’ must be provided to conformity assessment bodies (CABs) authorized by the importing countries’ governments. While large companies (e.g., multinationals) are well-versed in navigating these import rules, many other exporters struggle to source the required ‘proofs of conformity’. Ideally, they will come in the form of independent reports, received following third-party testing/inspection against a defined product standard that is recognized by the importing country.

People in Charge of the Shipments

The export process can become very complex if it is not organized carefully. Typically, the logistics staff handling the shipment will coordinate with the technical staff of the manufacturer/supplier/importer buyer to ensure the requirements of the importing country are satisfied. When this fails to happen, shipments can be delayed while relevant ‘test reports and other proofs of conformity to standards’ are secured and submitted to the designated CAB. In the absence of such proofs, the product undergoes testing by a third-party laboratory.

Exporters need to ensure that staff handling the logistics coordinate with the product manufacturer’s technical personnel (especially production and quality assurance departments). They will secure necessary proofs of conformity and enable their submission to the designated CABs for prompt review and qualification of the shipment.

Advance Planning

It is advantageous for exporters to plan in advance whenever they intend to export a product. It pays to understand ahead of time the technical requirements, usually described and defined in the corresponding product standard, against which the product must be evaluated. This must be done to secure the ‘Certificate of Conformity’ (CoC) from the designated CAB. Securing the appropriate documentations to show proof of conformity, followed by their review and validation, takes time.

Similarly, product testing in a third-party laboratory or at the manufacturer’s premises (as necessary or if allowed by the regulations) takes time to complete. The process may even be extended if the initial tests fail and the product does not meet the required standard. This will result in the need for corrective actions and re-testing.

By having the proper lead time to manage the technical requirements side, the exporter can greatly minimize possible delays in shipping.

Awareness of a Country’s Import Regulations

In many cases, especially for impromptu exporters, studying or being aware of the regulations of the importing country is generally low down on their list of priorities. This should not be the case.

Exporters put up considerable investment in terms of production, procurement, promotion and marketing when shipping products to buyers in another country. It makes sense for them to also understand the technical regulations to which their products must comply, in case they decide to export to a specific country. It is a fact that technical requirements for a product can and should be addressed as early as possible in the design stage. It makes economic sense to do this: preventing export delays, additional testing costs and, most damagingly, loss of confidence from importers, regulators and end-users.


Navigating the vast oceans of technical regulations enforced by countries in Africa and the Middle East can be daunting for any exporter. To be successful in every export opportunity requires focus, expertise and experience. The burden of proof (of conformance to standards) is always with the exporter and, without proof of conformity, exporting products under import regulations is always difficult and energy-draining.

Fortunately, technical guidance and assistance for exporters is available from responsible and reputable CABS. The CAB cannot provide a ‘silver bullet’ for the client, but they are able to provide timely and correct information and advice on the proper steps to be taken to ensure the right ‘proofs of conformance’ are in place to secure the necessary CoC.

SGS Product Conformity Assessment (PCA) Services

We have considerable experience in helping companies successfully access markets in Africa and the Middle East. Utilizing an unparalleled global network of state-of-the-art facilities our experts provide high-quality conformity assessment solutions to support exporters in all industry sectors. We are also contracted by many African and Middle Eastern governments to implement pre-export verification of conformity (or PVoC) services for their respective countries.

With considerable knowledge and expertise, we help clients to successfully navigate the complex technical regulatory paths enforced by their target markets. Our experienced PCA/PVoC professionals also assist exporters in properly planning conformity assessment activities – expediting the issuance of CoCs.

Learn more about SGS’s Government and Trade Facilitation services.

This article can also be found in our PCA Newsletter – keeping you up to date with developments in technical barriers to trade and product conformity assessment.

Subscribe to the PCA Newsletter by going to our Subscription Center and selecting the topic Government & Trade Facilitation at Step 2.

For more information, please contact:

Gerardo Panopio
Product Conformity Assessment Manager
Trade Facilitation Services, SGS
t: +63 2 755 7404


1World Trade Organization - Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal

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