F&B trade bodies set up Asean alliance

By Jessica Lim | Source: The Nation

A new alliance was launched Thursday with the goal of reducing trade barriers through standardising import and export processes among Southeast Asian countries.

The Asean Food and Beverage Alliance (Afba), made up of the main food and beverage (F&B) associations from each of the 10 Asean countries, hopes to achieve its aim by 2015. Processes it wants to standardise: certification procedures for ingredients, contamination limits and nutrition labelling.

A representative from each country met to sign an agreement to officially launch the alliance.

This is the first time that such an alliance has been formed. Its inaugural meeting was held on January 23. The plan is to meet once every six months.

At such meetings, members will share information on their country’s policies and regulations, discuss ways to standardise processes and come up with a template that everyone can follow. This could lead to further discussions, for instance, with government officials in the respective countries.

Contaminant limits, import and export certification, authorisation of food ingredients and nutrition labelling vary between Asean countries, said Sunny Koh, the alliance’s chairman for Singapore.

“There is currently no standard process that enables an ingredient authorised in one country to be placed in the market of another,” he said. “This places considerable burden on company resources and can hinder private sector competitiveness.”

Products that have been certified in one market should also be sold in all other Asean markets without re-certification, he said. There are also different cross-border limits for contaminants and nutrition labelling requirements. For instance, in Indonesia, nutrition labelling is required only on fortified and functional foods. In Singapore, it is mandatory for all products bearing nutrition claims.

Singapore Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority’s CEO, Tan Poh Hong, who was present at the event, said she is glad the industry has come together. “I hope that this will make it easier for enterprises to enter foreign markets within the region, tap on the full potential of the region’s economic growth and ultimately provide more benefits for consumers in the Asean market.”

The Asean F&B industry employs over four million people in 300,000 companies, mostly small and medium enterprises. The alliance’s goal is in line with the Asean Economic Community vision to transform the bloc into a fully integrated, single market by 2015.