Last week, the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) released a white paper calling for greater harmonization or convergence of food industry standards. The white paper can be found here.
The AFBA’s requests from the ASEAN institutions show the limitations of the current ASEAN regulatory structure. Without a regional institution empowered to regulate on a direct basis within the regional bloc (e.g., like the European Commission in the EU), the private sector has to seek action from the ASEAN countries as a grouping. These requests are summarized here and are reposted below:
At a Glance: The AFBA Five Priority Areas for the Harmonisation of Food Standards
1. Nutrition labelling – the labelling of products differs from country to country, including guidelines for standards on limits for minerals, variances in Nutritional Reference Values (NRV) and Nutrition Information Panels. By standardising one ASEAN format or recognising ASEAN Member State formats in the region, companies can export products quickly and with ease.
2. Pre-market registration – some countries require pre-market registration (as opposed to post-market notification) for a product which requires all product information and packaging to be submitted prior to a product being approved for sale. This can significantly delay bring a product to market, which increases costs for companies operating across multiple countries. This could be overcome by a single market registration that is recognised across ASEAN.
3. Import/Export Certification – Currently companies that import or export food products across multiple ASEAN markets are required to complete inspection and certification in each country where a product is traded. Given there are many similarities across ASEAN and common international guidelines for this process, the recognition of a common process from one country to another will significantly reduce resources invested in completing this process.
4. Authorisation of food ingredients and additives – There is no standard approval process for an authorised ingredient in one country to be marketed or sold in another country. Through a common standard, ASEAN can enable the industry to develop a standard product for the ASEAN region.
5. Contaminant limits and analytical methods – There are no uniform standards around contaminant limits among Member States and often the analytical method for testing may vary. By harmonising this process, companies can simplify product formulation and development across ASEAN, while continuing to protect consumer safety.
The AFBA is thus in for a long slog of lobbying ASEAN members and the ASEAN institutions, as happened during the 10+ years involved with the drafting and implementation of the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive. Hopefully, the efforts to harmonize food standards will not take so long.
Furthermore, ASEAN could also help develop the food and agricultural industry by improving the distribution infrastructure in the region. ASEAN has sufficient food resources, but distribution has hampered the development of intra-ASEAN trade.