The ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) has published a White Paper, calling on ASEAN Member States to speed up the harmonisation of food standards across ASEAN and unlock the economic potential of the agri-food sector by accelerating progress towards a single economic community by 2015.

The White Paper entitled ASEAN Harmonisation in the Food Sector, was released this week ahead of the Senior Economic Officials Meeting (SEOM) in Myanmar, highlighting five key areas where harmonisation or ‘mutual recognition’ of food standards would greatly enhance overall food trade for the benefit of businesses and consumers in all ten member states.

Principal Advisor to AFBA and former Deputy-Secretary General of ASEAN, Mr Pushpanathan Sundram explained how ASEAN nations rely upon the agri-food industry for economic growth, trade and investment and highlighted that around 38% of ASEAN’s population is employed by the sector.

“Currently, the sector only contributes 4.3% of the value of total ASEAN exports and only 2.5% of total intra-regional trade. The value of ASEAN agri-food exports has grown steadily since 2008, rising from US$38.2 billion to US$53.25 billion in 2011, but there remains significant untapped potential. With rising populations, an emerging middle class and a growing industry, we could greatly increase both intra and extra-regional trade and exports from the region.” he said.

FIA President, Umran Beba commended AFBA on the launch of the paper and stressed that the food industry stands ready to assist ASEAN leaders in meeting the AEC goals for economic integration by 2015.

“ASEAN Member States have made great progress in several areas relating to the food industry, such as developing guidelines for food hygiene, labelling for pre-packaged goods and food control systems as well as setting up an ASEAN Food Reference Laboratory for the region.

“One of the greatest impediments to trade today is differing food standards across ASEAN, which act as a technical barrier to the free flow of food products. ASEAN as a region needs to work towards a mutually acceptable set of food standards to encourage a single market approach to the food industry.

“The food industry is committed to supporting the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Technical Committees in this important work.”

The AFBA White Paper outlines how common approaches to standards on nutrition labelling; pre-market registration; import and export certification; authorisation of food ingredients and additives; and contaminant limits and analytical methods will open up the flow of food trade around the region. While the paper acknowledges the challenges of achieving full harmonised food standards by 2015, it recommends ASEAN Member States consider Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs), which are commonly used in other sectors such as electronics, manufacturing and cosmetics.

MRAs typically allow countries to recognise and accept each other’s standards, allowing products to be freely traded around the region. AFBA believes they offer a valuable stepping stone towards the harmonisation of food standards in ASEAN.

AFBA also calls on the Senior Economic Officers to create an enabling environment within ASEAN to facilitate greater public-private collaboration and enhanced cross-sectoral cooperation between the various committees and technical working groups. The paper highlights the importance of greater industry collaboration with ASEAN institutions and urges all parties to adhere to Good Regulatory Practice (GRP) guidelines.

At a Glance: Five Priority Areas for the Harmonisation of Food Standards

  1. Nutrition labelling – The labelling of products differs from country to country, including guidelines for standards on limits for minerals, variances in Nutritional Reference Values (NRV) and Nutrition Information Panels. By standardising one ASEAN format or recognising ASEAN Member State formats in the region, companies can export products quickly and with ease. 
  2. Pre-market registration – Some countries require pre-market registration (as opposed to post-market notification) for a product which requires all product information and packaging to be submitted prior to a product being approved for sale. This can significantly delay bring a product to market, which increases costs for companies operating across multiple countries. This could be overcome by a single market registration that is recognised across ASEAN. 
  3. Import/Export Certification – Currently companies that import or export food products across multiple ASEAN markets are required to complete inspection and certification in each country where a product is traded. Given there are many similarities across ASEAN and common international guidelines for this process, the recognition of a common process from one country to another will significantly reduce resources invested in completing this process. 
  4. Authorisation of food ingredients and additives – There is no standard approval process for an authorised ingredient in one country to be marketed or sold in another country. Through a common standard, ASEAN can enable the industry to develop a standard product for the ASEAN region. 
  5. Contaminant limits and analytical methods – There are no uniform standards around contaminant limits among Member States and often the analytical method for testing may vary. By harmonising this process, companies can simplify product formulation and development across ASEAN, while continuing to protect consumer safety.

About AFBA:

The ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) was officially launched in April 2013, reflecting the private sector’s commitment and support to the AEC. Comprising national associations that are involved in the manufacture, distribution and sale of food and beverage products across ASEAN, AFBA strives to facilitate intra- and extra- regional trade by supporting the ASEAN harmonisation process to the benefit of small, medium and large companies and their consumers in ASEAN markets. It serves as the voice of the food industry in ASEAN.

For more information on AFBA, see:

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