SC Virtual Spring Meeting (19-20 May 2021)

Geneva (31 May 2021): The 87th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) took place on 19-20 May 2021 by videoconference.  It was the SC’s second meeting to be held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.  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 70 officials representing all 21 Contracting States, 3 Applicant States (Italy, Sri Lanka and Ukraine) and 6 Non-Members (Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, and Spain).

Review of the operation of the Convention

The SC supported a proposal by the Secretariat to avoid delays in the revision of the Compilation of Acts, which contains important information on authorised Assay Offices and Assay Office marks. This information is notified to all Contracting States by the Depositary in line with Article 5 of the Convention.

The SC discussed a proposal by the United Kingdom to facilitate the sub-contracting of testing. While there was broad support for the proposal, some Members requested additional information on the reasons for having two distinct procedures for sub-contracting:

  1. A new, facilitated procedure between Assay Offices located in the same Contracting State, as proposed by the United Kingdom, and
  2. An already existing procedure between Assay Offices located in different Contracting States.

Members were given an update on the work carried out by the Working Group on the Model Law, chaired by Ms Nataša Mejak Vukovič (Slovenia), and the Working Group on Vision and Strategy. For the latter, Members agreed to nominate Mr. Doug Henry (Birmingham Assay Office) as Chairman.

The SC was informed by Finland on the process of replacing Eurofins Labtium Oy, the previously authorised Assay Office, and by Portugal on its new hallmarks, which are now the same for the Lisbon and Porto Assay Offices. 

Members noted that the pandemic had greatly impacted the activities of Assay Offices. The number of articles marked with the Common Control Mark (CCM) in 2020 dropped by 22.2% in comparison with the year before.  The number of CCM articles, marked in offsite facilities, decreased by a similar percentage.  However, the number of CCM articles offsite-marked still represents almost one-third of all CCM articles (32.1% in 2020). This share is almost the same as in 2019.

Review of membership applications and relations with Non-Members

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

Following a change in government in February 2021, Italy reported that the ratification of the Convention had to be relaunched. The timeframe for completing the process is unknown. The SC agreed to send an official letter to the Ministry to encourage Italy to ratify the Convention.

Some progress was reported on the accession of Ukraine, which now complies with the conditions to unfreeze its membership application, as agreed by the SC at its last meeting. The conditions are to pay the annual fee and to participate in SC meetings.

Sri Lanka provided an update on the situation of its Assay Office and the upgrading of its laboratory, which is still ongoing. The SC agreed to send a letter to Sri Lanka and to recall the next steps in the accession process, in particular an invitation to be extended by Sri Lanka to Mr Peters Brangulis (Assay Office of Latvia) to proceed with a technical follow-up visit.

The SC noted that there were currently 12 Non-Members, which had been granted a status: 9 were Technical Programme Participants (TPP) and 3 were Observers (OBS). The last Non-Member to be granted the status of TPP is the Spanish laboratory LGAI (Applus). For the full list of TPPs and OBS, click on this link. While Non-Members can attend SC meetings, they have no voting rights and cannot apply the CCM. They enjoy, however, privileged conditions for participation in the Convention’s Round Robin programme (see “technical discussions” below).

Technical discussions

The Chairman of the Standing Technical Group (STG), Mr Peters Brangulis (Assay Office of Latvia), reported on the 28th and 29th meetings of the STG, held by videoconference on 16 February and 29 March 2021, respectively.  The main focus of the STG during these conferences was, once again, the Round Robin (RR) programme, the Convention’s interlaboratory proficiency testing scheme on precious metals.

The SC supported a proposal the STG Deputy Chairperson, Ms Katarzyna Nadara (Polish Regional Assay Office of Warsaw), to aim for a full revision of the RR Guidelines. It also supported in principle a new template for Round Robin investigations and corrective actions. Ms. Nadara presented the outcome of last year RR (RR 47 & 48) to Members.

The SC supported a request by the Irish Assay Office to subcontract its testing by inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectrometry to the Sheffield Assay Office.

The SC also discussed and agreed in principle on two Assaying and Marking Practices (AMP) cases: the first on the marking of mixed precious metal articles and the second on the marking of articles consisting of parts.

Members noted an update by the SC Second Deputy Chairman on ISO Technical Committee TC 174. They also discussed the possible increase of the number of STG Members without taking a decision.

Brexit & European Commission Expert Group on Mutual Recognition of Goods

The SC discussed the potential opportunities, brought by Brexit, which allowed the Convention to act as a bridge between the Continent and the United Kingdom by facilitating the cross-border trade of precious metal articles. It could not be excluded that EU Member States (MS), which were not Convention Contracting States, would now show an interest for joining the Convention.

The SC also reviewed the outcome of the first meeting of Expert Group on Mutual Recognition of Goods in the field of precious metal control, which was established by the European Commission (EC). The Convention’s Chairman was invited to give a presentation at this first meeting. The SC agreed on a pro-active strategy to engage with the EC Expert Group and to establish a new Working Group, open to Non-Members, which would seek to co-ordinate positions between SC Members, Applicants, TPPs and Observers, and to develop a strategy for engagement with the Expert Group.

Farewell

The SC bid farewell to Ms Nataša Mejak Vukovič (Slovenia) and Dr Robert Organ (Assay Office London). Ms Mejak Vukovič attended her first SC meeting as Observer in 1997 and was then instrumental in the accession of Slovenia to the Convention in 2009. In 2019 she organised the SC meeting in Ljubljana and also chaired the Working Group on Model Law. Dr Organ first attended a SC meeting in 2006 and hosted two SC meetings at London Goldsmiths’ Hall: the first in relation with the inaugural meeting of the International Association of Assay Offices (IAAO) in 2008 and then the 40th anniversary of the Convention in 2015.

Next meeting

The SC agreed to reconvene virtually in Q4 2021 (the exact date will be determined by written procedure) while hoping to resume face-to-face meetings as from 2022.