SINGAPORE – Following the recent Food Industry Summit on 6 September, the FIA Secretariat had the opportunity to speak to John Nielson, Deputy Chairman of FIA’s Science and Technical Committee and Director of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, PepsiCo Asia.

During our conversation, Mr Nielson shared his views on the need to remove trade barriers in the food sector and to harmonise food standards across countries in Asia.

FIA: Why is there a need to remove technical barriers to trade (TBTs)?
Nielson: TBTs impede the potential growth of Asia’s thriving food manufacturing sector and food exports across the region. While Asia has comprehensive agreements such as the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) and the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (AGITA) in place to encourage free and open trade across the region, food manufacturers and exporters still face many technical barriers which curb the flow of food exports. Food labelling is one of the most pressing barriers companies face.

The lack of uniformity in food labelling regulations significantly affects the cross-border marketing of food products, which in turn reduces the incentives for companies to enter new markets or manufacture regional products. This in turn, impacts on the potential growth of - what is otherwise -a thriving food sector.

FIA: How will the harmonisation of food standards improve regional competitiveness?
The adoption of common food standards will significantly reduce the complexities of food trade across the region. With a standard regulatory framework, companies won’t have to face challenges such as inconsistent food labelling standards, inconsistent authorisation of food ingredients, and the complexity of different import and export certification. This will support simplified cross-border trade between countries, contributing to the overall economic development of the region.

FIA: What are some of the other key benefits of harmonisation?
Harmonisation also benefits consumers. A single approach for food standards and regulations will reduce manufacturing, production and administrations costs which will then result in lower product prices for consumers, as well as provide a greater product range on the supermarket shelf.

The reduction in product development costs will enable companies to invest in new technologies to increase the quality and innovativeness of their food products. This would provide consumers with higher quality products and greater choice.

FIA: How can we encourage the adoption of a common set of food standards?
A multi-stakeholder approach is needed for the adoption of common food standards. Government and Industry needs to agree that the convergence of food regulations and standards is needed for the benefit of the region’s economic competitiveness and overall food security.
A committed partnership between Government and Industry is then crucial to the process of creating a common regulatory framework. The private sector can add a lot of value through this process, given the technical expertise that exists in house and the experience companies have with this process.

A successful approach to harmonisation is also based on a concrete set of principles including minimal restrictions, good governance and non-discrimination. These principles ensure that Government, Industry and consumers all benefit from greater food trade across the region.

For further information about FIA’s position on technical barriers to trade, please download a copy of our report: Harmonisation of Foods Standards in ASEAN – A shared vision on Regulatory Convergence