On 6 September, FIA hosted a major Food Industry Summit in Jakarta attended by over 200 delegates from the food industry in ASEAN. The Summit, which was described by organisers as ‘a dialogue, not a symposium’ was co-hosted by Indonesian Food & Beverage Association (GAPMMI), bringing together leading F&B industry associations to discuss the harmonisation of food standards in ASEAN and the need for accelerated removal of trade barriers within the sector.

Through the course of the day, delegates discussed the most pressing trade issues for the food industry in ASEAN and identified four priority ‘TBTs’ (technical barriers to trade) that were stifling growth. These TBTs included the authorisation of food ingredients, the setting of contaminant limits, the complexity of import/export certification and the lack of consistency in food labelling standards.

The Summit culminated in the adoption of a Vision Statement on behalf of the assembled industry association. The Statement, which was formally presented to His Excellency Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General of ASEAN at the Summit dinner, set out a shared commitment on behalf of the food industry to work with the ASEAN Secretariat and member state governments to accelerate the goals of the ASEAN Roadmap.

The Summit itself featured presentations from leading industry figures, including Pradeep Pant, President of Kraft Foods Asia Pacific and Peter Ter-Kulve, Executive Vice-President, Unilever Southeast Asia and Australasia. Both noted the fast pace of growth for the food manufacturing sector in ASEAN and acknowledged the efforts made by Member States to establish an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

Mr Ter-Kulve described how the agriculture and food processing sectors account for a significant share of GDP in most ASEAN Member States. In 2009/10, agriculture alone contributed 50% in Myanmar and 33% in Cambodia. He also highlighted the contribution of the food manufacturing sector to GDP, citing 3.5% and 13.5% contributions in Indonesia and the Philippines respectively. Equally, agro-based activities account for high levels of employment in ASEAN, namely 72% in Cambodia, 40% in Indonesia and 42% in Thailand based on 2009 figures.

The value of agro-based exports has grown significantly in past decade and exports from ASEAN have risen from US$12 billion in 2003 to nearly US$40 billion in 2010. Food products represent a total share of 3.6% of total ASEAN exports and in some markets this is much higher. For instance, in 2009/10 food exports accounted for 17% of total exports for Vietnam and Indonesia, and over 14% for Thailand.
However, both speakers warned that technical barriers to trade are placing a heavy burden on manufacturers in ASEAN countries, which is limiting the region’s potential for growth. Intra-ASEAN food exports have grown much more slowly than total exports, accounting for less than 15% of total food exports. The Summit concluded that there is a huge opportunity if ASEAN can achieve its harmonisation objectives as set out in the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint.

Between them, delegates agreed that regulatory convergence is an essential element for the creation of a truly integrated ASEAN single market. All delegates voiced their support for the goals laid down in AEC Blueprint, which includes a strategic schedule for harmonising the regulatory framework for agro-food products. It was agreed that, for regulatory convergence to advance in the region, much depends on the commitment of all parties – including the food industry itself.
In a new report that was launched by FIA at the Summit, leading food companies stated their collective belief that, under the 2015 Roadmap, ASEAN has a unique opportunity to shape regulatory frameworks and standards that can meet the highest international benchmarks of good regulatory practice. However, these standards must be based on a sound set of principles, namely: good governance; rigorous impact assessment; scientific basis, proportionality and non-discrimination; open consultation; and minimal restrictiveness. Full details of these principles were set out in the FIA Executive Summary, which urged all parties to adhere to these principles when developing new frameworks. It was agreed during the Summit, that if consistently applied and properly enforced, these standards would play a critical role in underpinning the safety and quality of food for consumers.

For further information about the Summit outcomes and to download a copy of the FIA Report on the Harmonisation of Food Standards in ASEAN, please visit the FIA Website.