Call to strengthen food supply chain

Azlan Othman

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, future economic development strategies in the country such as enhancing food security should also emphasise on the new norms and the importance of strengthening the food supply chain and helping create more job opportunities.

This was shared by Asean Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) President Haji Abdul Halim bin Saim to the Weekend Bulletin when asked how AFBA could assist in national development.

“We need to increase the country’s economic security at a time of uncertainty due to COVID-19 as the pandemic forced everyone to think about restructuring the supply chains,” he said.

“We have to create more jobs for the locals by creating a better business environment to improve the present scenario, especially in assisting our micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (MSMEs) to integrate into the regional or global markets through improved trade regulations, policies, facilities, services and e-commerce,” Haji Abdul Halim said.

He said when COVID-19 hit, positive and admirable steps were taken by governments and businesses across the region to protect the industry and keep supermarket shelves well stocked.

For example, relaxation measures have been granted by some authorities to ease and speed up business processes. In the post-pandemic period, it is essential that the adoption of flexible and pragmatic approaches continue to ensure that nutritious and affordable food remain accessible to the public, Haji Abdul Halim said.

As ASEAN member countries gradually open up economic activities, it is important for the authorities to keep up with political commitment, well-coordinated implementation on the ground, as well as an outward-looking approach. As business sectors are on the lookout for regionalised supply chain, ASEAN could leverage on this opportunity by strengthening its regional integration, and the speed of it is crucial, he said.

“It is also crucial to build end-to-end visibility in the supply chain, invest in supply chain risk assessment and risk management, diversification and system agility to keep food supply chains opened and prevent disruption to the supply chain as any potential domino effect that can result in food loss, increase in food price and food security risk.”

He also highlighted inputs from AFBA on post-COVID-19 economic recovery plans including acceleration of regional trade reforms and elimination of non-tariff barriers for food products; and harmonising food regulations in the region to reduce regulatory barrier and enable free-flow of food products within ASEAN.

Others include applying measures to facilitate trade and movement of essential goods, for example allowing electronic submissions instead of physical documents for regulatory approval and customs clearance, avoiding the imposition of new trade barriers such as tariffs and export restrictions, accelerating the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade and preservation of open borders for goods at upstream and downstream levels.