ASEAN report highlights public-private cooperation, opens new doors for industry

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / metamorworks
Getty Images / metamorworks

Related tags Asean IADSA AAHSA Npa

A new report by an international dietary supplement trade group shows industry and government are taking unprecedented steps to work together.

The teamwork has helped ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to develop an agreement to harmonize the cross-border regulation of dietary supplements.

The report, ‘ASEAN’S Road to Harmonisation,’​ provides background information and details how industry associations and regulators have worked closely together over a 16-year time span. It has been published by the ASEAN Alliance of Health Supplement Associations (AAHSA) and the International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA).

The collaboration now has the Association’s 10 Member States primed and ready to finalize the ASEAN Agreement on Regulatory Framework for Health Supplements. 


Once signed, the initiative will set a number of lucrative opportunities in motion, including the reduction of non-tariff technical barriers to the trade in supplements between the ASEAN countries as well as pave the way for a new era for the supplement sector in Southeast Asia.

The cooperation between industry and government was conceptualized in 2004. During the development phase of the agreement, the supplement sector was invited to contribute expert scientific input. In response, in 2006 industry groups across ASEAN formed AAHSA to act as a united voice during the harmonization process. As a result, AAHSA is an accredited Business Organization officially listed as an ‘Entity Associated with ASEAN’.

“Aligning ASEAN’s technical requirements and guidelines for health supplements more closely with the rest of the world makes local companies more competitive on the global stage and opens up new opportunities for them to export. Most important of all, harmonization helps to protect consumers living in ASEAN Member States by setting rigorous standards and providing access to safe and high-quality products,”​ said Simon Pettman, IADSA Executive Director. 

 “A blueprint for success”

“The way in which industry and regulators have worked together in ASEAN can act as a blueprint for success throughout the world. Through AAHSA, the private sector has been able to demonstrate its commitment to achieving the same aims as government. In particular, it played an important role in developing the 10 annexes that form the backbone of the agreement, covering important topics such as a negative list of banned ingredients, substantiation of safety and health claims, labeling requirements, and more,”​ explained Daniel Quek, AAHSA Chairman. 

AAHSA worked alongside IADSA, the global association of the food supplement sector, with members from six continents.

“A great success story”

“The associations provided expertise from the beginning of this process, and to have reached this point is a great success story not just for ASEAN but also for the world, because it provides an excellent model for others to follow,” ​said Pettman. “In creating the conditions for supplement businesses in ASEAN to thrive, harmonization acts as a catalyst for attracting investment by health supplement players from both within the region and elsewhere in the world, leading to an increase in production capacity, research & development, economic growth and job creation in the region.”

Quek said that harmonization would also give the supplements market in the region a boost. “The health supplements market in ASEAN is forecast to record a compound annual growth rate of 5.6% between 2018 and 2026, to reach a value of US$10.6 billion,”​ he explained. “AAHSA estimates that harmonization has the potential to add up to 8% to this, driven largely by the reduction of technical obstacles to trading across borders in ASEAN.”

Prioritizing health 

Governments in ASEAN consider dietary supplements to be a priority sector, which begs the question “How can the US get on board with prioritizing supplements?”​ Pettman said such guidance is difficult to provide to the US.  “However, it is possible to explain why it is a priority in ASEAN.  In general, the governments of the region understand that the health supplement market will continue to grow and supplements will play an important role in people’s lives.  They also understand that this is a sector for the future, not a sector of the past.  Therefore, they are keen to encourage inward investment of manufacturing, R&D etc. and help make the region a powerhouse for  supplements in the world.  Some other governments are seeing this in a similar way,”​ he said. 

Nutrition amid a pandemic 

Pettman told us that while the harmonization was not accelerated by the pandemic, “COVID has for sure made it clear to many governments how important it is for the population to have a good nutrition status when fighting such pandemics, and therefore highlighted the role of the industry.”

Where the US dietary supplement industry lands is yet to be seen. There is a good chance that COVID-19 may divert the FDA’s attention away from the supplement industry. However, Dan Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA), said the pandemic is also a circumstance in which the industry can show its worth. 

“You can’t go a day without seeing some new study on people’s vitamin D status and COVID-19 outcomes,” ​Fabricant recently told NutraIngredients-USA​. “There are a lot of new faces coming in [to the House and Senate], and we can make the case with them that this information about supplements is information the American public wants.”

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