The harmonisation of standards is crucial to the facilitation of trade in ASEAN, especially with the region aiming to achieve economic integration and create a single market as part of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. This is according to a new report launched yesterday by the newly formed ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA).

In particular, the AFBA Report on the Harmonisation of Food Standards in ASEAN highlights that the agro-food sector is heavily relied upon for economic growth in a majority of ASEAN countries.

It says agriculture and agro-based industries continue to account for high levels of employment in several ASEAN countries. In addition, the agro-food sector is a significant contributor to GDP in ASEAN, with the food processing and manufacturing industry constituting between 3.5 per cent (Indonesia) and 13.5 per cent (Philippines) of national GDP.

Despite being a key economic sector throughout the ASEAN region, the AFBA Report notes that the agro-food sector’s potential is not yet fully exploited.

The AFBA Report emphasises the important role that the harmonisation of science-based regulations and standards has in enabling trade and investment for the region’s agro-food sector. It also outlines how the removal of technical barriers to trade (TBTs) – especially product standards and certification – and the alignment of the region’s regulatory frameworks with internationally recognised standards are vital in facilitating intra- and extra-regional food trade.

Acknowledging the importance of the private sector in driving economic integration, the AFBA Report also highlights AFBA’s commitment to supporting and partnering with ASEAN and its member Governments in achieving the objectives of a single ASEAN market.

Representing the national industry associations from the ASEAN Member States, AFBA is a newly formed, dedicated vehicle for driving harmonisation across ASEAN.

FIA Policy Director, Melanie Vilarasau Slade, said that the AFBA Report aims to not only provide useful references for policymakers in shaping a regulatory framework, but to also highlight AFBA’s commitment to supporting ASEAN’s aims in the implementation of the AEC.

“AFBA will support and contribute to the facilitation of trade in the region by proactively collaborating with the ASEAN Secretariat and Member States; offering expertise and resources in food issues, including regulatory, technical and market information; facilitating capacity building initiatives; and leveraging local, regional and international networks to build support for ASEAN’s harmonisation efforts.

“The Alliance will work with the ASEAN Secretariat to help reduce unnecessary TBTs so that small, medium and large food companies can easily export products, enter new markets and grow their trade potential. This is not only beneficial to business, but also to consumers who can enjoy a wider choice of affordable, high quality goods and services, a common understanding of labelling and quick access to new and innovative products at a competitive price,” she said.