SC Virtual Autumn Meeting (24 November 2021)

Geneva (20 December 2021): The 88th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) took place on 24 November 2021 by videoconference. It was the SC’s third virtual meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was chaired by Mr Scott Walter (Edinburgh Assay Office), 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 virtual meeting was attended by around 60  officials representing 20 Contracting States out of 21 (Austria was not represented), 3 Applicant States (Italy, Sri Lanka and Ukraine), 3 Observers (Moldova, Montenegro, and Spain / KRISOS) and 4 Technical Programme Participants, TPP (China, Mongolia, Spain / ECOMEP, and Spain / APPLUS). 

Official documents under revision

The Compilation of Acts is in the process of being revised in response to changes to assay office marks, as communicated by Contracting States to the Depositary or to the Secretariat. The process is ongoing.

The SC has further discussed a proposal by the United Kingdom to facilitate the sub-contracting of testing within a country on the basis of a background paper by the Chairman, which was successfully endorsed by Members by written procedure. The next step will consist in formally revising the Compilation of Technical Decisions to include the new rules on sub-contracting. 

Review of the operation of the Convention

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

  • The new Chairman of the Working Group on Vision and Strategy (WGVS), Mr Doug Henry (Birmingham Assay Office), said that the critically important work of the WGVS had been delayed due to the pandemic. As the WG’s mandate would expire by September 2022, the WG aimed at submitting by next year its proposals on how to implement the new vision and strategies for the Convention. It made an additional call for volunteers to join the WGVS.
  • Following the retirement of Ms Nataša Mejak Vukovič (Slovenia), the Working Group on the Model Law (WGML) is without Chair. It has nevertheless made progress on completing the guidelines on model law, which will be finalised by the WGML by written procedure and then shared with the SC by next year.
  • At its last meeting the SC supported the establishment of a new Working Group for engagement with the European Union (WGEU), which is open to SC Members, Applicants, TPPs and Observers. A number of Members and Applicants have volunteered and the composition of the WG will be finalised by written procedure.

Due to pandemic-related lockdowns and a general slow-down in trade, the number of articles marked with the Common Control Mark (CCM) dropped by 22.2% in 2020. However, it increased by nearly 60% in the first half of 2021. The Dutch and UK Assay Offices noted an increased use of the CCM by exporters due to Brexit. The Swiss Assay Office, which marks the most CCM articles, said that the increase was due to a higher demand for both precious metal watches and high-end jewellery in Asia and the USA. 

Review of membership applications and relations with Non-Members

The SC reviewed the accession process of Italy, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. 

  • Italy reported good progress in the ratification process of the Convention, which is now with the Italian parliament. Trade is pressing for a quick ratification.
  • Ukraine says that the Ministry of Finance had finalised the bills, which are needed for the ratification process. The bills are in the process of being transferred to the Supreme Council.
  • Sri Lanka announced that the Assay Office had to be relocated and was thus not fully operational yet. The process of nominating a new Director was still ongoing. It was hoped that the SC’s appointed expert, Mr Peters Brangulis (Assay Office of Latvia), could be invited for a technical follow-up visit by November 2022.

With regard to Non-Members, the SC noted that hallmarking of gold jewellery is compulsory in India since 16 June 2021. Following a reorganisation in Russia, the Secretariat has lost all contacts. This prompted the Secretariat to make a proposal to the SC and invite Members to actively provide contact details of Non-Member Assay Offices and Ministries in order to engage them in the SC’s activities, in particular the Round Robin, and expand the geographical scope of the Convention at the same time. A database with these contact details will be updated by the Secretariat and shared with Members. The Secretariat also intends to update the Convention’s website and include profiles of Non Members starting with TPP and Observers. 

Technical discussions

The Chairman of the Standing Technical Group (STG), Mr Peters Brangulis (Assay Office of Latvia), reported on the 30th meeting of the STG, held by videoconference on 6 July 2021, which focused on the Round Robin (RR) programme, the Convention’s interlaboratory proficiency testing scheme on precious metals. With 30 meetings, the STG is the longest serving Working Group of the Convention.

The STG reviewed investigations and corrective actions of 9 Assay Offices, which exceeded permissible limits during last year’s RR 47 (on gold) & RR 48 (on silver). It also discussed and reviewed the results of this year’s RR 49 (gold), RR 50 (silver) and RR 51 (platinum) as well as some of the related investigations and corrective actions. The STG noted with satisfaction that the new template, adopted by the SC at its previous meeting, is facilitating the STG review of the various investigations. It also agreed on the alloy composition for the next RR to be held in 2022.

The SC discussed a proposal by the STG to revise the Guidelines on the Independence of Assay Offices and asked the STG to review its proposal based on Members’ comments. The SC also mandated the STG to revise the survey used by Ministries and Supervisory Authorities to assess the independence of their Assay Office(s). 

Elections

The SC noted that all office holders, i.e. Chairman, First Deputy, Second Deputy, as well as all Members of the STG are due for re-election / re-nomination as their terms of office will end on 31 December 2021. The elections will take place by written procedure. 

Next meeting

The SC agreed to reconvene for face-to-face meeting in Geneva (Switzerland) by Q3 2022, travel and sanitary measures permitting.