ASEAN Economic Community – The Way Forward for Food  

Singapore played host to the 2nd ASEAN Business Club (ABC) Forum this week, which was attended by over 300 CEOs and senior business leaders throughout the South East Asia region.

The ASEAN Business Club, led by Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of Air Asia, has successfully positioned itself as a forceful voice of change on behalf of the private sector in ASEAN and is committed to accelerating integration efforts towards an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC2015).

This year’s forum included a new focus on the Food & Beverage Sector thanks to input from joint research partners, FIA and the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA). This sector-focussed dialogue was led by Pushpanathan Sundram, special Advisor to AFBA, Hendro Poedjono, FIA Lead Representative for AFBA and Sunny Koh, AFBA Chairman for Singapore, who all participated in the Food and Beverage Roundtable.

FIA Executive Director, Bev Postma opened the discussion by sharing the results of a new research paper on lifting the barriers in the food & beverage sector. She explained that the Agri-Food sector is the largest employer in ASEAN and has immense potential for further growth. For this reason, the sector was identified by ASEAN leaders as a priority sector for accelerated integration as part of the original Roadmap for AEC2015.

The report acknowledged that ASEAN leaders have already made great strides in facilitating trade and promoting growth for the region, however, challenges still remain in the food and beverage sector.

Inconsistent regulatory frameworks across ASEAN member states serve as technical barriers to trade and, despite efforts to harmonise these standards, little progress has been made. This is where the private sector can play a critical role in supporting the integration process. It is through partnerships, dialogues and technical capacity-building that these challenges can be overcome.

The food industry used the ABC Forum to reiterate the sector’s commitment towards the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The AEC 2015 milestone is a significant step towards an integrated market but work must now continue beyond the 2015 deadline. Addressing non-tariff barriers is at the forefront of this challenge – by harmonising standards and developing a Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs), these barriers can be lifted to achieve a freer flow of trade. This will contribute to higher economic growth, higher employment and access to greater choice of safe and nutritious food for consumers, wherever they live in the ASEAN region.

The collaboration between Public and Private actors in ASEAN is the key to achieving these results. AFBA has been able to successfully unite the food industry across the region, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs), thanks to its unique network of national industry associations. By harnessing the collective voice of the Association leaders in each country, AFBA has been able to secure alignment on key priorities for harmonisation and has offered a united commitment to Government leaders to support the ASEAN ambition in all ten Member States.

The food industry, through AFBA, will continue to work with apex partners such as the ASEAN Business Club and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council to promote the principles of good regulatory practice and achieve further alleviation of non-tariff barriers.

By supporting various ASEAN Committees in terms of knowledge dissemination and capacity building, the food industry can play a vital role in the integration process through public private partnerships.

It is clear that the ASEAN food and beverage sector is poised for explosive growth in the next decade. By harnessing the knowledge of the private sector to the political will of the ASEAN member state governments, this region can reap the benefits of being a single economic community.

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