SC Meeting in Geneva (13 September 2022)

The 89th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) took place in Geneva (Switzerland) on 13 September 2022 under the chairmanship of Mr. Scott Walter (Edinburgh Assay Office), who was assisted by First Deputy Chairperson, Ms. Maria Magdalena Ulaczyk (Polish Regional Assay Office of Warsaw), Second Deputy Chairman, Mr Thomas Brodmann (Swiss Assay Office), and the Chairman of the Standing Technical Group (STG), Mr Peters Brangulis (Assay Office of Latvia).

The meeting was attended by 52 officials representing 18 out of 21 Contracting States (Austria, Serbia and Sweden did not attend), 2 Applicant States (Italy and Ukraine), 2 Observers (Mongolia and Spain / KRISOS) and 1 Technical Programme Participants, TPP (Bosnia-Herzegovina).

This was the first face-to-face meeting of the SC since its meeting in Tel Aviv in 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings took place virtually by videoconference.

A minute of silence was observed by all Delegates following the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II (the United Kingdom being the country in the chair) as well as two SC Members: Ms. Aedin Doyle (Ireland) and Ing. Martin Novotny (Czech Republic).

Ukraine’s Delegation receives standing ovation

In spite the war, the Ukrainian Delegation was able to travel to Geneva and attend the SC meeting, where it received a standing ovation. The Delegation consisted of a representative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance and a representative of the State Central Assay Office. Both were able to reach Geneva thanks to a model co-operation between the Polish Regional Assay Office of Warsaw, which provided logistical support, and the Assay Office of Latvia, which provided financial support.

Members were particularly impressed by the continued operations of the Ukrainian Assay Offices despite the war. Although the volume of articles controlled and marked dropped by half since February, it was remarkable that the Assay Office staff continued to work under the constant threat of bombings.

During the meeting, the Ukrainian State Central Assay Office, the Assay Office of Latvia and the Conventions’ Secretariat signed a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the democratically-elected Government of Ukraine to continue its accession process to the Convention thanks to a donation by Latvia of EURO 10,000. The Secretariat will administer the donation in close co-operation with the Assay Office of Latvia and the Ukrainian Assay Office.

Italy’s accession undermined by upcoming elections

The SC reviewed the accession process of Italy, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine. Italy reported that it had almost complete the ratification process, with the exception of a formal vote by both Senate and Chamber of Deputies based on the positive recommendations of the relevant parliamentary commissions. However, with the resignation of the Italian Government on 21 July 2022 and the elections on 25 September 2022, it was uncertain that the process could be formally completed in time before the new Government took office.

Reports from the Working Groups (Model Law, Vision & Strategy, and European Union)

Members were given an update on the following three Working Groups:

  • The Working Group on Vision and Strategy (WGVS), chaired by Mr Doug Henry (Birmingham Assay Office), met in Geneva on 12 September 2022. It hopes to finalise its work before the next SC meeting in spring 2023 and submit a revised vision and strategies for the Convention as well as proposals for their implementation.
  • The Working Group on the Model Law (WGML), chaired on an ad-hoc basis by Richard Sanders (United Kingdom), met virtually on 6 September 2022 and completed a first draft of the guidelines on model law, which have been submitted to Members’ comments.
  • The Working Group for engagement with the European Union (WGEU) convened for a first meeting in Geneva on 14 September 2022 and agreed both on a mandate as well as a first action consisting in mapping EC-related initiatives in the field of precious metals control.

Technical discussions

The SC reviewed the case of forged Common Control Marks (CCM) as well as a forged Assay Office marks. This case required the co-operation of 4 different Assay Offices and involved over 1,200 jewellery articles, which have been seized. This is the largest number of forged CCM articles in decades. The matter is under investigation by the police. In order to facilitate the future co-operation between concerned Assay Offices, when confronted with a case of forged CCM, the SC agreed on establishing a procedure.

The Chairman of the Standing Technical Group (STG), Mr Peters Brangulis (Assay Office of Latvia), reported the 31st and 32nd Meeting, held by VC on 7 March 2022 and in person in Joure (Netherlands) on 30 June 2022, respectively.

It discussed issues related to the Round Robin (RR) programme, the Convention’s interlaboratory proficiency testing scheme on precious metals, in particular investigations and corrective actions related to last year’s RR 49 (gold), RR 50 (silver) and RR 51 (platinum) as well as the results of this year’s RR 52 (gold) and RR 53 (silver), which were presented to the SC by the STG Co-Deputy Chair, Ms Katarzyna Nadara (Polish Regional Assay Office of Warsaw). The STG also agreed on the alloy composition for the next RR to be held in 2023, i.e. RR 54 (gold), RR 55 (silver) and RR 56 (palladium).

The STG made progress on the revision of the guidelines on the independence of Assay Offices and the guidelines on offsite marking as well as the drafting of the new guidelines on the Common Control Mark (CCM) – a first draft of the latter was presented at the meeting. The SC also mandated the STG (i) on integrating a risk-based approach for the implementation of the guidelines and procedures contained in the Compilation of Acts; (ii) on reviewing XRF testing and screening requirements; and (iii) on considering whether aligning the Convention’s requirements to those of the International Standards Organisations (ISO). The SC also discussed a question by KRISOS, the Association of Spanish Precious Metals Laboratories, on whether certified materials used in chemical assays by ISO 17025 accredited laboratories can only be provided by refiners, which are accredited to ISO 17034. The SC concluded that this was not required under ISO 17025. It also discussed a survey run by the Cyprus Assay Office of whether 10k gold chains were more resistant than 9k. The survey clearly showed that this was not the case.

The number of CCM articles increases again

Following a marked drop of the number of articles marked with the Common Control Mark (CCM) in 2020 due to COVID-19 related lockdowns (-22.2%), the number of CCM articles increased again in 2021 (+48.3%) to total 6,730,001 articles. 29.4% of these articles were offsite marked. Half-year figures in 2022 confirm the upward trend in the number CCM articles (+25.9%).

Annual fee increase in 2023

The SC agreed on an increase of all annual fees (including the membership fee) by 5% as from 2023. This is the first increase of the membership fee in over a decade (the last increase was decided in 2012).

Farewell to First Deputy Chairperson

The SC bid farewell to the First Deputy Chairperson, Ms Maria Magdalena Ulaczyk (Polish Regional Assay Office of Warsaw), who will retire at the end of the year. Ms Ulaczyk is the most senior SC Member (first attendance in 1994). She has been extraordinarily active, ensured Poland’s ratification of the Convention in 2005, organised an SC meeting in Warsaw in 2011, and fostered a sense of community in the SC, which will be very much missed.

The Second Deputy Chairman, Mr Thomas Brodmann (Swiss Assay Office), agreed to become the next First Deputy Chairman, once Ms. Ulaczyk retires. A call for the nomination of candidates for the position of Second Deputy Chairperson was made. The deadline for candidatures runs until 30 September 2022.

Next meeting in spring 2023

The SC agreed to reconvene face-to-face in Geneva (Switzerland) in the 2nd half of April 2023. Subject to confirmation, this meeting will be hybrid and allow for the remote participation by video- or audioconference. Subject to confirmation, future meetings of the SC will take place every 8 instead of every 6 months (3 meetings over a period of 2 years) in order to give more time to both Working Groups and the Secretariat to produce discussion papers for the SC.