Accelerated efforts to ensure food security were key focus areas at the recent 23rd ASEAN Summit held in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei on 9-10 October 2013.

The Summit, held under the theme “Our People, Our Future Together”, reviewed the progress towards ASEAN’s goal of realising the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. Discussions also focused on building an ASEAN Community that is “politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible”.

Following the Summit, the FIA Secretariat had the opportunity to speak to Mr Pushpanathan Sundram, the Principal Advisor of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA). During the conversation, Mr Pushpanathan provided his observations and insights on the outcomes of the 23rd ASEAN Summit and what this means for the food industry in the region.

FIA: As we move quickly towards the 2015 deadline, ASEAN Leaders made a number of commitments in the region. Can you tell us about some of the key outcomes from the Summit?
Mr Pushpanathan:
The Summit reaffirmed the importance of strengthening collaboration and intensifying integration efforts among ASEAN member states to realise the goal of establishing the AEC by 2015. Given that around 80 percent of measures set out in the AEC Blueprint have been implemented, the leaders discussed the remaining initiatives that will liberalise trade in the region: promote ease of doing business in ASEAN, narrow the development gaps further and plug AEC into the global economy.

The Declaration of the 8th East Asia Summit on Food Security was also adopted on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit. Highlighting the need to promote food security and nutrition in the region, the Declaration calls for a collaborative approach between government sectors and private and public stakeholders to encourage “restraint on introducing new measures that are inconsistent with WTO agreements” that may restrict food trade.

Measures highlighted in the Declaration signed between ASEAN member states and leaders from Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States are consistent with efforts to remove non-tariff barriers – a key priority forthe AEC.

In addition to trade and the AEC, health and nutrition issues were a point of discussion for ASEAN Leaders. They agreed on the urgent need for more action to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region. Recognising this commitment, the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Non-communicable Diseases in ASEAN was adopted by the Leaders.

The Declaration, which calls for a multi-stakeholder approach, including the private sector, to strengthen efforts in tackling NCDs in the region, demonstrates ASEAN leaders’ commitment to enhance local efforts to deliver against the nine voluntary global targets mapped out in the World Health Organisation Global Action Plan on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

FIA: You mentioned that the Summit reflected on the progress and development of the AEC. What more does the food industry need to do in order to realise the AEC goal?
Mr Pushpanathan:
The agro-food sector plays an important role in most ASEAN member states, accounting for quite a significant share of GDP across the region. The food processing and manufacturing industry, for example, contributes significantly to GDP, ranging from between 3.5 per cent in Indonesia and 13.5 per cent in the Philippines. The agro-food industry was also the fastest growing sector in the region, accounting for a 36.6 per cent growth in 2011.

However, the industry only contributed 2.5 per cent of intra-regional trade that year, and 4.3 per cent of ASEAN’s overall trade. In general, intra-ASEAN trade accounts for an approximate 22 to 25 per cent of overall trade in the region.

There is clearly a lot more potential for agro-food trade, but there are various barriers not only impeding the growth potential of the region’s agro-food industry, but also the region’s goal of establishing a competitive, single market and production base that is fully integrated into the global economy.

The food industry needs to partner with ASEAN and look into eliminating significant impediments to trade such as differing food labelling rules, import and export certification and product registration standards to ensure the realisation of the AEC. The costs associated with the lack of harmonisation in these food standards cannot be understated – they limit choices for consumers and reduce trade in the region as well as the region’s overall competitiveness.

The partnership between the food industry and policy makers in ASEAN can help accelerate the process of harmonisation of standards and will contribute to the facilitation of trade to meet the AEC goal. Through this partnership, the industry is also able to provide input and feedback on measures and regulations in establishing the AEC.

FIA: How will AFBA help?
Mr Pushpanathan:
The ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) was established as part of the food industry’s commitment to the creation of the AEC.

With the establishment of AFBA, the food industry provides a single channel through which the industry can engage and work with Governments on meeting the AEC goal. Comprised of national associations involved in the manufacture, distribution and sale of food and non-alcoholic beverage products in ASEAN, AFBA seeks to partner ASEAN by addressing knowledge gaps in food issues and providing regulatory, technical and market information to stakeholders.

AFBA is already engaging with policy makers at a national and regional levels, to exchange views and share information on how trade barriers can be eliminated and how the industry can facilitate the greater flow of food around the region. This not only contributes to the formation of the AEC, but it also contributes to the region’s food security commitments.

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