Consumers in the region are demanding more variety and higher quality food. But industry standards differ across the member states of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) – slowing the movement of goods between countries.
Pushpanathan Sundram, principal advisor, AFBA, told FoodQualityNews.com, standardised labelling is the most important issue, with nutritional information inspected separately by each country to meet different criteria.
He said harmonising this and four other standardisation priorities will bring the industry together but it’s a huge challenge.
“It’s a big task and the governments alone cannot handle this. This is where the industry and ASEAN comes in,” he said.
“Food standards among the 10 countries vary in terms of regulations and technical requirements.
“Trade is being affected because of the differences in regulations. This is impeding our full realisation of the economic community ASEAN is trying to create.”
Sundram added harmonisation of standards would bring more flow of food products across the 10 countries and inter-regional trade can be further developed.
First big step
“We feel there is a lot of potential for inter-regional trade and exports to the world,” he said.
“The challenge is, different countries have different standards. How do you make them come to an understanding?
“Bringing them to the table and making them understand and create mutual recognition will be the first big step.”
The agri-food industry brings the ASEAN region economic growth, trade and investment and around 38% of the region’s population is employed by the sector.
However the industry still only contributes 4.3% of the value of total ASEAN exports and only 2.5% of total intra-regional trade, according to AFBA.
“I think it’s going to make a big difference,” added Sundram. “ If you look at the population of ASEAN it’s growing and is expected to grow even bigger. Disposable income is also growing. The people in this region are expecting high quality food and more choices. There is demand.
“If ASEAN can get its harmonisation done – it’s not easy I must say – that will help facilitate trade and help companies invest more in region.”
Aside from nutritional labelling, other priorities include a single market registration system for products , a common certification process for imports and exports, a standard approval process for ingredients, and uniform standards for contaminant limits.
AFBA presented its five priorities in a White Paper, called ‘ASEAN Harmonisation in the Food Sector’, to senior economic officials last week.
The 10 ASEAN member states are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.