Role of Public-Private Partnership in ASEAN Economic Integration

As Singapore takes on chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, stakeholders continue to view trade facilitation as the region’s top agenda. Food Industry Asia (FIA) works closely with its public and private sector partners on ASEAN regional integration for standards and regulations, in order to facilitate trade for the food & beverage sector.

The ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) recently had its 73rd Meeting in Singapore, which included the 4th NTM/NTB Steering Committee Meeting and 7th Joint Business Consultation Meeting with its members and private sector partners across ASEAN.

Discussions built on a decision made following the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) Council meeting in the Philippines last September, in which ASEAN Economic Ministers jointly agreed to reduce non-tariff measures (NTMs) by 10 percent by 2020. NTMs are policy tools outside ordinary customs tariffs, which could impact the economic aspect of international trade – altering prices and quantities traded, and thus becoming a barrier to trade.

In light of the rising trends of protectionism and policy uncertainties on a global scale, the ministers also reaffirmed ASEAN’s commitment to open regionalism and the ASEAN Economic Community’s (AEC) 2025 agenda.

Participating in these meetings, representatives from FIA shared their experience with ASEAN regulatory harmonisation, issues faced by the agri-food sector pertaining to non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs) in the region, and discussed activities and areas for collaboration in 2018.

Over the years, FIA has been identified by the ASEAN BAC as a private sector champion leading with feedback from the food & beverage sector to support ASEAN's efforts toward greater economic integration, and to identify priority areas for consideration by ASEAN leaders.

  Ms YiFan Jiang, Head of Science & Regulatory Affairs, Food Industry Asia (FIA) (in red, far left), presents on recommendations for public-private partnership in working toward economic integration in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), during the 73rd ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) Meeting in Singapore on 17 January 2018. 

During the discussion, Ms YiFan Jiang, FIA’s Head of Science and Regulatory Affairs, referred to recent research by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC), which showed that Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) and Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures had been found most burdensome, concerning agri-food trade in the region. Thus, she said, there is an urgent need to improve communications between the public and private sectors, in order to get consensus on solutions that will reduce regulatory uncertainties and barriers to trade.

She added, “International and regional harmonisation of regulations is a common goal for both public and private sectors. In order to achieve this, we believe that effective information-sharing and capacity-building through public-private partnership are key.”

“Industry has an active role to play in sharing resources and expertise, and providing feedback to the public sector on what it sees as Good Regulatory Practice (GRP). Hence, it is necessary that it is included in the process of ASEAN harmonisation and regional integration for standards and regulations.”

Representatives from ERIA shared that the institute will continue to study the impact of NTBs in ASEAN, which may also include sector-specific case studies, such as that of concerns around labelling regulations shared by the F&B sector. They added that findings could help provide a clear definition of NTBs, as part of efforts toward providing a concrete target for trade harmonisation.

In addition to engagement from regional industry representatives and inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), Singapore’s government leaders, namely Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Koh Poh Koon, and Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade), Mr Lim Hng Kiang, participated in the ASEAN BAC events as well. Both shared about Singapore’s vision for ASEAN in 2018, and expressed their support for the advancement of regional integration and reduction of obstacles to efficient trade and investment.

The ASEAN BAC was formed following a decision made by the ASEAN leaders at the 7th ASEAN Summit; it was launched in April 2003, with the mandate to provide private sector feedback and guidance to boost ASEAN's efforts toward economic integration. As such, the ASEAN BAC organises regular meetings and consultations with members of industry and academia, developing and providing recommendations to key public-sector decision-makers in ASEAN.