Leaders from the APEC Secretariat, World Trade Organisation and the World Economic Forum have recently stressed the importance of harmonisation across all sectors to unlock the region’s growth potential. The FIA Secretariat had the opportunity to sit down with Mr Bruce Blakeman, Vice President Corporate Affairs, Asia Pacific, Cargill, and Mr Liam Jeory, Vice President Corporate Relations, McDonald’s Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, to discuss why harmonisation is so important to the food sector, the importance of harmonisation throughout the supply chain and how the formation of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) will help facilitate common food standards across the region.

FIA: Why is harmonisation so important to ASEAN’s food industry? What impact will harmonised food standards have on food quality, safety and trade in the region?

Harmonisation will ensure food producers; manufacturers and retailers apply a common set of standards on food safety, labelling, quality, certification and registration.

This is a win-win for consumers, industry and the overall economic growth of the region. It will drive consistent food quality and safety standards throughout the region, building consumer trust and confidence in food products. Common standards also encourage both the public and private sector to share best practice in food safety across different industries and countries, which improves the overall quality of food in the region.

It will also allow us to apply economies of scale when manufacturing, producing and distributing food products across different countries under different regulatory frameworks. By reducing costs, companies will be able to invest in new technologies that can further improve the quality and safety of their products.

Blakeman: Harmonised food standards also remove technical barriers to trade and help facilitate the movement of food products between countries. This is crucial in an increasingly globalised supply chain. The lack of uniform standards in areas such as food labelling and product registration can hamper the movement of products and delay the availability of food for consumers. With common food standards, intra- and extra-regional trade between countries is more efficient, contributing to overall regional economic development.

FIA: Why is it important that all parts of the food supply chain are involved in the harmonisation process?

In today’s globalised world, food supply chains extend beyond national boundaries. This means there are often several different stakeholders who all have a role to play in delivering high quality, safe food according to local food standards. At the same time, advances in food processing and manufacturing technologies have enabled our food to go through a greater transformation process through the supply chain. This globalisation and transformation of food has created a more abundant choice of food for consumers, but it has also created new sources of risk for food. Therefore it is more critical that all actors in the supply chain work together to mitigate these risks at every stage of the process.

Involving all players – from farmers to producers and retailers – in the harmonisation process will help set common expectations as well as standards and processes that are achievable and practical for everyone, especially the small and medium sized enterprises. It will also ensure that a uniform set of standards is being used and applied as food goes from farm to fork.

Jeory: A coordinated transparent supply chain, operating in a region with harmonised standards, will also help increase the transparency of food production processes and the traceability of products for consumers and regulators. It provides an added reassurance that there is compliance with regulations throughout the supply chain, and this can then increase consumer and regulatory confidence that the final food products have met desired standards.

It will demonstrate that the food industry takes collective responsibility for food safety and high food quality across the supply chain.

FIA: How can the food industry better involve all aspects of the supply chain? 

The launch of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) in April is a good example of how the food industry can involve the different sectors of the supply chain in the harmonisation process. Made up of representatives from national food industry associations and SME groups across the 10 ASEAN member states, AFBA brings together the different sectors of the food supply chain such as the manufacturers and retailers to drive harmonisation across the region.

AFBA will work in collaboration with policy makers and regulators in the region to accelerate the removal of technical barriers to trade across the supply chain. This will include working on best practice for harmonising the different approaches to nutrition labelling, product registration and authorisation of food ingredients in the region.

Jeory: Through AFBA, representatives from the different food sectors will have the opportunity to have a ‘voice’ at the policy table as well as at a technical level – bringing the best in regulatory, technical and market information to critical discussions and decisions on the harmonisation process for food standards.