South Africa - Country Commercial Guide
Standards for Trade

Describes standards, identifies the national standards, accreditation bodies, and lists the national testing organization(s) and conformity assessment bodies.

Last published date: 2020-10-01


South Africa has a well-developed standards regime that is largely based on compulsory, regulator-lead definition and qualification. South Africa has developed many standards over several decades that reflect specific conditions that relate to the natural and human environment. The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) is a specialized South African statutory agency responsible for the promotion and maintenance of standardization and quality relating to commodities and the rendering of services. It is a specialized agency of the Department of Trade and Industry.  Its tasks include:

  • Publishing national standards
  • Testing and certifying products and services to standards
  • Developing technical regulations (compulsory specifications)
  • Monitoring and enforcing of legal metrology legislation
  • Promoting design excellence
  • Providing training on aspects of standardization

SABS is accredited nationally by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) and is recognized internationally by Netherlands-based Raad voor Accreditatie (RvA).  SABS belongs to both the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Accordingly, it issues pharmaceutical and industrial standards that conform to those of the ISO. 

SABS follows the standards of the ISO, the IEC and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), and does not automatically recognize the standards of the United States.  British Industry Standards and the Deutsche Industrienorm are favored in the SABS systems for historic and technical reasons.  Products sourced from these countries enjoy quasi-automatic accreditation.

In practice, U.S. companies have been able to comply with South African standards when importing goods into South Africa.  Based on a survey of U.S. firms already established in South Africa, the standards maintained by SABS have not been a major trade-inhibiting factor; the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors are an exception and receive more attention. All foreign suppliers pursuing compliance with South African standards have experienced slow processing of applications for Letters of Authority (LoAs), in some cases to the extent of risking technology redundancy. The Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies who oversees the SABS in April 2018 bemoaned the lack of professionalism at the SABS and called for a revamping of the board and an urgent formulate of a turnaround strategy.

Manufacturers have the option of paying SABS to test and approve their products.  This option is rarely exercised. Though SABS has the right to terminate the sale of products if it receives enough complaints, there have been very few cases of this happening.

The standards issued by the SABS are in accordance with the Environmental Conservation Act and are enforced on all imports and exports.  All foreign companies establishing themselves in South Africa need to have their Environmental Management System (EMS) certified.  This certification needs to be updated every year to ensure that the company is observing South African standards. 

The Directorate of Plant Health and Quality within the National Department of Agriculture ( is responsible for setting standards for certain agricultural and agricultural-related products. These standards cover aspects such as composition, quality, packaging, marketing, and labeling as well as physical, physiological, chemical, and microbiological analyses.

The Standards Act, Nr. 29 of 1993 gave SABS the power to be involved in the regulations governing consumer protection. There are voluntary and compulsory standards.  Only 53 of SABS’s approximately 5,000 standards are mandatory.  However, depending on the laws, other standards may be considered compulsory as well (i.e., electricity standards) and it may create uncertainty for businesses.

About consumer protection, reports indicate that SABS is taking a tougher line on companies that violate mandatory standards.  This comes in the wake of the amended Consumer Protection Act of 2008, which, from 1 April 2011, changed many aspects of business in South Africa by introducing new legislation concerning manufacturers and service providers. This legal framework aims to protect the consumer through controls on product liability, sales and marketing practices and fairness in consumer contracts, among other issues.

Standards Organizations                                                 

The following is a list of the major South African organizations involved in the management of the standards regime:

SABS - South African Bureau of Standards, the Government agency regulating standards.

Human Science Research Council (HSRC) – works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international development agencies, and the Government on large-scale, social-scientific projects.  HSRC is also involved in the homologation of academic standards:

South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA, previously known as the Medicines Control MCC) regulates medicine and devices in South Africa.

NIST Notify U.S. Service

Member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are required under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) to report to the WTO all proposed technical regulations that could affect trade with other Member countries.

Notify U.S. is a free, Web-based e-mail subscription service that offers an opportunity to review and comment on proposed foreign technical regulations that can affect your access to international markets.  Register online at Internet URL

Conformity Assessment                                                         

The following is a list of the major South African organizations involved in conformity assessment:

NMISA - National Metrology Institute of South Africa develop primary scientific standards of physical quantities for SA



SABS - South African Bureau of Standards, a Government agency regulating standards.


SANAS – South African National Accreditation System



NRCS – National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications, a Government agency overseeing EHS standards and consumer protection.


Product Certification                                                                 

Certain items require product certification:

  • Electrical products need to receive Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) certification.
  • A mutual recognition agreement (MRA) exists between the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) in the United States.

All medicines, including supplements and complementary medicines, as well as medical and IVD devices must be evaluated and registered with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). The Medicines and Related Substances Act 1965 (Act 101 of 1965) can be found under:

Some foreign companies have experienced delays in system certification -– this is generally seen due to capacity issues at the SABS and the National Regulator of Compulsory Standards (NRCS) that have been addressed over the past year. In the case of ICT companies, this has been a business inhibitor, due to the rapidly changing requirements of end-users, as well as the short life-cycle of certain technologies.


The following is a list of organizations involved in accreditation in South Africa:

  • South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) – Organization that awards official recognition to laboratories, certification bodies, inspection bodies, proficiency testing scheme providers, and good laboratory practice (GLP) test facilities that possess the capability to carry out certain tasks.  Electronic equipment must be tested at labs accredited by SANAS.  See the following Website:
  • International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) that determines whether laboratories can perform specific tasks.  Please see
  • International Accreditation Forum (IAF) whose members are required to maintain high standards when accrediting companies. Please see

Publication of Technical Regulations                                                      

The SABS is the statutory repository of all relevant standards. These can be obtained in electronic format from the SABS at


All proposed and final technical regulations are published in the Government Gazette.

To subscribe to the printed (hard copy) of the Government Gazette, please contact:

The Government Printing Works

Tel: +27 (0)12 334 4737/4734; Fax: +27 (0)12 323 0009


Access to the Government Gazette is available online through a fee-based service provided by

Sabinet Online Ltd.  For additional information, visit

Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex)



Council for Scientific and Industrial Research



Department of Health



Department of Trade and Industry



Directorate of Plant Health and Quality

National Department of Agriculture



Engineering Council of South Africa



Human Science Research Council



International Accreditation Forum



International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation



International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa



South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA)



National Department of Agriculture



Office of the U.S. Trade Representative



Sabinet Online Ltd


South African Revenue Services


Labeling and Marking

Important points on labelling/marking:

  • Labeling/marking for industrial and pharmaceutical imports must be provided in English.  South Africa follows the Harmonized System (HS) and belongs to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), an organization that permits the exchange of goods practically unhindered among the member states: South Africa, the principal administrator and revenue collector; Lesotho; eSwatini (formerly Swaziland); Botswana and Namibia. Label compliance for pharmaceutical and medical products are described in the The Medicines and Related Substances Act 1965 (Act 101 of 1965) found at: 


  • The South African Government has regulations mandating the labeling of genetically modified (GM) food products under certain circumstances, including when allergens or human/animal proteins are present and when a GM food product differs significantly from a non-GM equivalent. The new rules also required validation of enhanced-characteristic (for example, “more nutritious”) claims for GM food products. The regulations did not address labeling claims that products are GM-free.  Biotechnology advocates are concerned about this omission, noting it could lead to fraudulent claims.  Trade organizations seem satisfied with the regulations, which follow internationally recognized, scientific guidelines under the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex). See South Africa’s Codex representative comes from the Directorate of Food Control.


The South African Bureau of Standards

Tel:  +27 (0)12 428 7911; Fax:  +27 (0)12 344 1568



National Department of Agriculture (NDA)

Tel:  +27 (0)12 319 6001; Fax:  +27 (0)12 325 7394