UNDERWRITERS Laboratories (UL) is one of several ISO certification organisations in Hong Kong. This United States company is a non-profit-making product safety testing and certification organisation that has evaluated products, materials and systems for more than 100 years. In Asia, UL has offices in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, India and China. ISO registration began in the US in 1989 and in Hong Kong about 30 months ago. The company's culture includes developing local capabilities but it has not been easy to find local auditors of an acceptable quality and business has initially been slow. However, the company's regional manager for quality assessment services, Richard Li, is expecting increasing business during the second half of the year based, in part, on agreements signed in China. 'Although, in most cases, Asian companies know what ISO is, sometimes when breaking into a new industry we have to explain what it can do,' he said. Japanese firms generally use Total Quality Control but now they are more enthusiastic about ISO, partly because their customers insist on it. Companies in Malaysia and Singapore are also keen on obtaining ISO certification, while India and Indonesia, which both started late, are picking up. However, they still lag behind China. Mr Li said companies in China that were applying for ISO were a mix of local Chinese companies and joint ventures and that the need for ISO was usually market driven. 'Joint ventures are more susceptible to ISO because the foreign partner will be more aware of the benefits,' he said. 'Local companies are at the beginning of the learning curve. We are trying to help industry understand what quality is all about; that ISO is not just chasing after a piece of paper but that it is a good foundation for further improvement.' Mr Li said this was passed on to a company as added value during the assessment and some of the improvements possible were documented during the report which would show that, although the system met the ISO standard, the practice could be improved. However, Mr Li said the audit must be unbiased and independent and for that reason UL did not teach or prepare the company for audit. The Chinese Government was promoting ISO, but there was confusion over the two national accreditation organisations, each run by separate ministries, he said. Late last year, UL signed a memorandum of understanding with one of them, the State Administration of Import and Export Commodity Inspection, which, despite its name, was responsible for quality system registration, such as ISO, as well as commodity certification. UL followed up by opening a representative office in Guangzhou last month, which Mr Li said would play a strategic role in helping manufacturers in the US and China meet their quality registration needs. As part of this expansion into China, UL has also signed an operational agreement relating to ISO 9000 registration with the CCIB Quality Certification Centre, a non-profit-making organisation accredited by the China Council for ISO 9000. This brings to 18 the number of international quality systems that UL has signed agreements with. They also include the Dutch Council for Certification, the Standards Council of Canada and the Registrar Accreditation Board of the US.