According to Mr Henry J. Schumacher, Executive Vice-President of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, improvements need to be made to ASEAN’s intra and extra-regional trade regulations to further enhance trade and investment in the region’s agri-food sector.

In his recent opinion editorial entitled “The agri-food sector ”, Mr Schumacher wrote that “outdated regulatory practices and a lack of institutional capacity” as well as market access issues are impeding the growth potential of the agri-food sector in ASEAN.

Among the key market access issues he highlighted include non-tariff barriers, labelling and technical standards and product classification rules. He highlights that in addition to “constraining development and growth”, these issues also led to problems related to “food safety, non-tax paid trade, over-regulation and customs clearance delays” in the region.

Noting that the agri-food sector accounts for “over 25 per cent of GDP in several ASEAN member states”, Mr Schumacher said that import tariffs and non-tariff barriers should be phased out over time to help unlock the region’s trade potential.

He also called for the harmonisation of labelling rules and the compliance of technical standards, product classification rules, and internal taxes and regulations with international standards. Mr Schumacher further highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships in preparation of ASEAN’s economic integration by 2015, writing that “governments should consult the industry on proposed amendments or any new regulations affecting the agri-food sector.”

FIA Policy Director, Melanie Vilarasau Slade, agrees that common standards and the removal of technical barriers to trade will help unleash ASEAN’s growth potential.

“Despite the strong economic ties between member states, intra-ASEAN trade only accounts for 15 per cent of the region’s overall food and agricultural exports. Meanwhile, only 3.6 per cent of total trade is made up of food exports, with differing food labelling rules; import and export certification and product registration processes acting as significant barriers to trade. This not only stifles the region’s economic growth and development, it also impacts the availability of affordable, high quality food.

“The newly launched ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) was established to help accelerate harmonisation in ASEAN. The Alliance is working collaboratively with FIA, the ASEAN Secretariat and other key stakeholders to drive common food standards and make safe, high quality food more available to the region’s 604 million people,” Ms Vilarasau Slade said. For further information about AFBA and the key priorities for harmonisation please visit the FIA website here .