The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA) is organizing a conference in Yokohama, Japan, in April 2007, with the aim of bringing regulators, policy and scientific experts to share ideas and identify areas where regulation is not yet complete.
David Pineda, manager of regulatory affairs, told NutraIngredients.com that now is a particularly pertinent time for discussing regulatory changes in Asia since for the 10 ASEAN countries (Association of South East Asian Nations: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) there is a process of harmonization taking place that includes health supplements and traditional medicines.
The meeting, in association with Japanese member associations, is the first that IADSA has held in Japan. The reasoning behind the choice of location is that it is one of the three biggest markets for supplements in the world, and is often seen as a springboard for entry into other Asian markets.
According to US-based analyst Paul Yamaguchi, the US dietary supplements market is worth $11bn, out of an entire nutrition industry of $27bn.
The three main areas for supplements regulation are definition of the category, maximum levels, and health claims.
In Japan, supplements are not clearly defined within the wider food category; maximum levels exist for some vitamins and minerals but not others; and the FOSHU health claims system has existed and evolved since the 1980s.
But Pineda stressed that Japan is not being held up as a model for the ASEAN regulations - nor is the intention to tell regulatory bodies in Japan or other nations what to do. Rather, the conference will highlight regulatory tends across the world, particularly in Asia, the US and the EU.
Bringing officials from different countries together could highlight aspects of the different systems, which it could be beneficial to apply to others.
The ASEAN supplements industry is currently estimated to be worth around US$1.5bn (c €1.17bn), and is growing at a rate of around 10 per cent per year.
Pineda called ASEAN "an important development, since it aims for harmonization over supplements by 2010". Although it has been a different process, the effect is similar to the EU supplements legislation, which aims to ease trade between member states.
Beyond the ASEAN a number of countries at a national levels that are looking at revising their regulations; Japan has also sent some delegations to learn more about the US and European systems.
"The message is not that we expect immediate change, but regulations are always subject to revisions," said Pineda.
Another framework that aims to bring down trade barriers is Codex Alimentarius; the Codex guidelines for vitamins were approved in 2005.
Unlike the EU and ASEAN Codex does not aim to harmonise, and it is not a force of law like national regulations.
Although the 122 member countries are not obliged to implement the guidelines, Pineda said that they are important because countries looking to revise their regulations or which don't have strong regulations of their look first to Codex.
Moreover, Codex is taken as a reference point in for the resolution of disputes by the World Trade Organisation.