Friday, 17 June 2016

And now for something completely different

Tension is high today as Codex CAC39 debates the adoption of REP 16/FFV N10-2014 5/8 Standard for Aubergines.

Seems like fairly mundane stuff but somebody somewhere is quite excited by the prospect. If you farm aubergines it means if you conform to the standard you can export freely to anywhere that has adopted the Codex conventions and has an agreement on mutual inspections.

I see frequent Codex committee announcements like this almost every week. This is the kind of incremental progress that builds up a global rules based trading system that will in due course function as a global single market.

But the big news today from the world of standards and regulations is the new ISO 14452. This standard promises to make billing clearer, more customer-friendly and better all round.

The standard defines the minimum requirements for billing and payment collection, prevents or reduces complaints by tackling key issues, ensures that suppliers assist customers by billing appropriately and consistently, and creates and sustains a fairer, longer-term supplier-customer relationship. Apparently.

It provides benchmarks for customer expectations and allows for the implementation of smart metering technology and provision of improved customer information.

Anyone who has received an inaccurate or late bill for their gas, electric, water, or telephone services can understand why billing is one of the main sources of customer complaints against utilities. The new ISO standard provides solutions by giving recommendations for billing practices that actually “make sense” for customers.

All very tedious I know many businesses in due course, probably eighteen months from now will whinge about having to implement new "EU regulations" - when in reality all the EU is doing is instructing UK businesses to use ISO 14452. Being it a global standard, and being a signatory of the WTOs agreement on technical barriers to trade, we would, in or out of the EU adopt this standard. Out of the EU we would likely adopt it sooner.

It is this kind of standard which places a good deal of burden on business in terms of developing software and implementing it, but in the long run is better for customers and reduces what they spend in handling complaints - which in theory become less frequent.

Certainly in the wake of the privatisation of utilities when companies like N-Power were taking on the the function of billing for the first time they took several years in finding their feet, resulting in several consumer outrages. By now, with modern conformity to standards, much of those issues become a thing of the past.

But the purpose of this post is to urge you to keep an eye out. Any of you working in a billing environment will become aware of this and we may even see the trade rags praising the EU for these new cost saving measures. But in this, as with the abolition of roaming charges, we are not so much seeing our Brussels overlords in action (unfairly taking the credit), rather we are seeing the exciting world of standards, diqules and quasi-regulation. All the EU is required for is to rubber stamp them into law.

Should we leave the EU and remain in the EEA, this is the kind of law we will adopt from the EU, only because we will have an opt out at the top tables, we can refuse certain standards if it is found that they would harm or otherwise interrupt existing trade.

Unwanted standards may seem an obscure thing to get worked up about but as with our aubergines above, while mundane to you and me, well to you maybe, they have a profound effect on entire industries. Jobs can be wiped out or created at the stroke of a pen. It is that kind of protection we seek by leaving the EU. Not so we can deregulate - but so we can have better regulation.

Tune in next week to find out if the IMO intends to extend the grace period on the new SOLAS gross container mass verification rules. Anything could happen!! Don't miss it!

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