FIA spoke with H.E. Dr. Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Forestry for Lao PDR to discuss ASEAN integration and the importance of public-private-producer partnerships.

What are the key priorities for the ASEAN Member States in the development of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)?

ASEAN is a dynamic region for food and agriculture with a number of ASEAN countries among the top exporters globally in products like rice, fruits, vegetables and coffee. Our region is also a global leader in industrial crops such as palm oil, rubber, cashew nuts and pepper. Many ASEAN member states have established strong trade links in these products with countries across the world. Intra-ASEAN trade flow, however, is still relatively underdeveloped and a major priority for ASEAN is to strengthen these links and upscale the trade of key food products. The main concern here is to develop trade regimes that would enhance intra-ASEAN trade of food products. The main issues are related to non-tariff barriers (NTB) which still exist within ASEAN. Addressing these issues is key to achieving the ASEAN Economic Community.

Laos is exporting glutinous rice which is a product in which we have a comparative advantage, as other ASEAN countries produce mainly non-glutinous rice and there is a large demand in China. Our largest export markets are Thailand, Vietnam and China. Most of Laos’ produce is cultivated through green agriculture methods which Lao excels in due to its clean environment. It is a priority for Laos to trade food and agricultural goods more freely within ASEAN, focusing on products in high demand by individual member states, but we are limited through the current lack of harmonisation in Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures and trade regimes.

Which mitigation measures to reduce technical barriers to trade are the most important at this stage of the AEC’s formation?

We are still working on addressing intra-ASEAN NTBs. A lot has been achieved ‘on paper’, but we need to establish the institutional arrangements and mechanisms to materialise the ASEAN agreements that have been established. The institutional capacity divide is the main problem to facilitate intra-ASEAN trade. For example, Laos has limited capacity to implement the agreed SPS measures and we need investment to develop systems to enhance food safety. Investments in these sectors could help Laos develop very strong, clean and safe agriculture. Investments in green and safe agriculture could also pave the way for opening new trade routes to ASEAN+3 countries China, Korea and Japan.

Do you see a greater role for public-private sector collaboration in the lead up to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)?

There is an extra ‘P’ needed when we talk about food and agriculture: public-private-producer partnerships (PPPP) are key to helping ASEAN member countries realise their respective comparative advantages in food and agriculture, especially the less advanced member countries. Past experiences in multi-stakeholder collaborations have proven that where developments of PPPP are well balanced, the impact to the country's economy growth is huge. Laos has seen this in maize, coffee, cassava, sugar cane, rubber, tree plantations and others. The down side of PPPP is that if the relationship between partners is not balanced, the partnership will be short-lived. In most cases, the problem lies with private businesses taking advantage of the producers. We need to build more partnerships that are balanced to help ASEAN realise its potential in food and agriculture trade. We need to promote a win-win situation for the outcome of the PPP Partnership under which everyone can trust each other and work together for mutual benefits. Mutual trust, Transparent Relations and Fair Shared Benefits helps in sustaining long term beneficial trade relations. This was in fact one of the key messages highlighted at the World Economic Forum in Manila.

Some have commented that ASEAN member states may need to focus more on internal collaboration between ministries to reach the objectives of the AEC. Do you agree?

AEC will only work if there is unity and synergy in policy support and associated actions among and between ASEAN countries. To realise this, there is a need for the public sector in each country (including the ministries and agencies) to work hand-in-hand with each other. The agriculture sector in particular is a risk-prone sector and needs strong policy support from the agencies working in the economic and financial sectors. They need policies to attract more external land-based investments, and endowments in rich and clean natural resources paired with good policy support such as financial incentives.

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