FIA had the opportunity to present the proposed ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance (AFBA) framework to key ASEAN regulators from the 10 ASEAN member states that assembled at the ACCSQ Prepared Foodstuff Products Working Group (PFPWG) meeting on 5 and 6 December in Malaysia. At the meeting, FIA also highlighted its commitment to provide support to the ASEAN ambition to create a free trade area by 2015.

FIA is the first and only industry body to have been invited by the ASEAN Secretariat to make a presentation to this regulatory body that is playing a key role in progressing harmonisation of food standards.

The presentation highlighted FIA’s support for the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, gathering broad industry support during the September Food Industry summit for helping ASEAN, and specifically PFPWG, to accelerate the harmonisation of food standards in ASEAN and consider more industry input in the process. It also showed how AFBA may play a key regional role on behalf of ASEAN’s food industry in driving and coordinating the necessary support activities with PFPWG and relevant other ASEAN bodies through the ASEAN Secretariat.

Dr Leon Gorris, Chairman of the Science and Technical Committee (STC) represented FIA along with Senior Science and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Alicia Ng. Dr Gorris commented that he was pleased with the engagement of the audience during the discussion that followed the presentation.

“We received positive feedback from the regulators, but they also had several good probing questions for us, for instance on AFBA governance and the representation of SMEs.

“Pak Roy Sparringa, Deputy Chairman for Food Safety and Hazardous Substance Control at the National Agency for Drug and Food Control of Indonesia and Chair of PFPWG, acknowledged the importance of partnership and communication between regulators and the industry. In addition, other regulators indicated that they would appreciate feedback from FIA with regards to the difficulty of SMEs to implement standards and meet regulatory requirements, such as ensuring food hygiene in their operations.

“Overall, this first exploratory session was a positive one in which we had an open dialogue. At the end of the meeting we were asked back to PFPWG for further discussions,” Dr Gorris said.

Ms Ng also noted that the regulators indeed put much emphasis on the need for larger industries such as FIA members to help small-and-medium size enterprises (SMEs) embrace ASEAN as a single market. She highlighted the collaborative relationship FIA has with National Industry Associations across the region and provided statistics on their ASEAN based SME membership.

“We certainly showed to be open to explore ways in which we can support the SMEs and understand how we are able to work with the PFPWG and the ASEAN Secretariat,” she concluded.