The ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance (AFBA)
has come under the spotlight at key regional business forums for its role in promoting the harmonisation of food standards for the benefit of consumers and businesses.
The challenges and opportunities of reducing technical barriers to trade and accelerating economic growth was debated at both FIA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM)
and the Asia Pacific Food Industry (APFI) Knowledge Series conference
on the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
At the APFI conference, participants highlighted that technical barriers to trade and non-tariff measures will continue to be a feature of intra-regional ASEAN food trade for the foreseeable future, and that domestic political sensitivities for Small and Medium Enterprises may not support opening markets to competition from other ASEAN nations immediately.
Mr Pushpanathan Sundram (Nathan), Principal Advisor of AFBA and former Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN, who was one of the conference speakers, said AFBA is working proactively with governments towards a harmonised regulatory system in ASEAN that delivers benefits to businesses of all sizes, large and small.
He offered advice for businesses: “Companies should be adopting a multi-local engagement approach as integration continues. They should also be starting to look at regional strategies for ASEAN, and how to most effectively engage with dedicated ASEAN industry associations like AFBA.
“The reality is that differing regulatory standards create an increased cost to businesses and therefore to consumers,” said Nathan.
This sentiment was echoed by Dr Siti Abdel Malik, Principal Technical Advisor to AFBA during recent interviews with the Malaysian media, when she explained that harmonised standards or ‘mutual recognition’ will benefit both consumers and businesses.
“In Southeast Asia, governments have rightly introduced a diverse array of regulatory standards and food policies over the years to protect consumers and businesses in their country. While many of these standards are already aligned with the Codex Alimentarius, some are still at the drafting stage.
She continued, “While some differences are inevitable for such a large and diverse region, these complex and varying standards generate huge inefficiencies and costs for businesses when food is traded between countries. This slows down trade and inhibits innovation at a time when consumers are seeking ever more choice, convenience and quality.
(Picture: The AFBA team, 2015)
“AFBA’s goal is to help governments harmonise their standards and/or to find ways to mutually recognise each other’s standards, especially where there is a net gain for consumers, not only in terms of cost, but also in terms of food safety and nutritional information,” said Dr Malik.
A recent poll at FIA’s AGM and Leaders’ Debate further highlighted the importance of this issue as senior executives were asked: ‘What is the biggest barrier to business growth in the food industry in Asia today?’ Fifty per cent of attendees voted Cost of Regulation and/or Poor Enforcement to be the biggest barrier ahead of other challenges such as Access to Technology, Human Resource Capability and Cost of Raw Materials.
Responding to the poll, Mr Peter Ter Kulve, Executive Vice President SEA and Australasia for Unilever said, “There is opportunity [for businesses] to compete more effectively across the markets, particularly in Southeast Asia, but there are many non-tariff barriers in the way. By harmonising rules on things like nutrition labelling, governments in ASEAN can reduce both cost and complexity while helping us to deliver a more consistent message to consumers.”
Speaking in a debate at the World Economic Forum in Indonesia, on whether ASEAN could form a free trade area this year, Mr Mustapa Mohamed, Minster of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia said he was optimistic on declaring ASEAN as a common economic community by November this year.
As this milestone for the ASEAN community draws closer, the work of AFBA in promoting the benefits of economic integration will play an increasingly important role, particularly in the priority areas for regulatory harmonisation, namely: nutrition labelling; pre-market product registration; import/export certification; authorisation of food ingredients, additives and flavours; and contaminant limits and analytical methods.
Formed in 2013, AFBA is a non-profit body comprised of national industry associations across the ten member states of ASEAN involved in the manufacture, distribution and sale of food and beverage products. AFBA seeks to support harmonisation of food regulations and standards across Southeast Asia for the benefit of small, medium and large enterprises and their consumers, and provides a voice for the food industry at the policy table.
For more information on AFBA please visit http://afba.co
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