ASEAN countries need to further tackle barriers to trade in the region, particularly in economically sensitive sectors such as agriculture in order to reap the full benefits of establishing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), according to the October 2013 Asian Economic Integration Monitor report.

Published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the report highlights the need for countries in the region to reduce non-tariff barriers which are “increasingly replacing tariffs as protective measures”. According to the report, unless these non-tariff barriers are addressed, they will “stand in the way of realising the AEC”.

The report also notes that for ASEAN countries to meet their trade facilitation objectives to realise the AEC, “members will have to expedite the harmonisation of business processes”.

FIA Policy Director, Melanie Vilarasau, agrees that there is a need to remove barriers to trade and to accelerate the harmonisation process in the region, particularly for processes involving the registration of new food ingredients and finished food products.

“In other parts of the world such as the EU, or Australia and New Zealand, products registered in one market can be sold in other markets without the need for separate in-country registration. This is currently not the case in ASEAN as no process of mutual recognition exists between ASEAN markets and there are no common standards or processes for product registrations.

“Countries across ASEAN must still undergo complex registration processes for new products and ingredients. In some countries, registration processes can be greatly delayed even if no new ingredients or new claims are involved. Such complications can result in extended delays for getting products to markets and this represents a huge cost not only to food and beverage companies, but also to the Governments and consumers,” she said.

Other areas that are a priority for action in reducing barriers to trade include different requirements for product labelling, and particularly nutrition labelling, analytical methods and contaminant limits.

“If ASEAN regulatory authorities are able to agree to mutual recognition agreements, based on establishing equivalence between nations for product registration and food standards, it will reduce product prices for consumers, encourage greater trade among countries and increase foreign direct investment. This contributes to the region’s overall competitiveness in the global arena.

“The ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA), representing the food and beverage industry in ASEAN, is seeking to assist Governments in the region to establish broad mutual recognition agreements between nations in key priority areas. This will help reduce barriers to trade for imported products within ASEAN. These agreements are an important stepping stone for the region to achieve full harmonisation and to reap the full benefits of an integrated AEC,” Ms Vilarasau said.

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