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Addressing food security challenges

Azlan Othman

ASEAN countries already facing food security challenges as well as restrictive measures to contain COVID-19 impacting agrifood supply chain will have further stress on food value chains, according to a report from the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA).

As countries in the region tighten border access, all food and beverages should be categorised as essential to ensure a continuous food supply to all people, said the AFBA.

It added that the availability of workers to support production is at a critical level with all industry players reinforcing efforts to keep employees safe and healthy.

The AFBA highlighted that this is especially critical as the food supply chain is a complex web that involves producers, agricultural inputs, transportation, other logistics and availability of workers.

In the ASEAN region, food systems remain highly interdependent – and disruption to any part of it will have knock-on effects. This interdependence extends to a broad range of non-food inputs that go into production including animal feed, seeds, chemicals, oils and packaging.

AFBA said a conducive policy and regulatory environment is needed for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the economic recovery phase, and that a flexible and pragmatic approach, political commitment, well-coordinated implementation on the ground, as well as an outward-looking approach are needed during this pandemic.

The alliance further highlighted that there is a need for acceleration of regional trade reforms and elimination of non-tariff barriers for food products such as harmonising food regulations in the region to reduce regulatory barrier and enable free-flow of food products within ASEAN, apply measures to facilitate trade and movement of essential goods, for example allowing electronic submissions instead of physical documents for regulatory approval and customs clearance.

Others include avoiding the imposition of new trade barriers such as tariffs and export restrictions as well as accelerating the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade.

The alliance added that immediate impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic that might be felt more acutely in any one segment or geography will eventually be felt across the entire supply chain.

AFBA also highlighted key challenges during the pandemic which include labour shortages, border challenges and input shortages.

As one of the private sector champions for the food industry, AFBA contributed to recommendations put together by the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and its partner Joint Business Councils (JBC) and sector champions to ASEAN Leaders, covering immediate and longer-term proposed measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AFBA said immediate-term measures include protection of workforce while economic activities resume as well as restoring consumer confidence and minimising economic impact. Long-term measures include strengthening ASEAN competitiveness, accelerating economic recovery, better preparedness for future pandemic or natural disaster events.

As for AFBA’s response during the outset of the pandemic, they include submitting a statement to ASEAN leaders to urge the need to keep food supply chain open with the following key points namely they are the need to ensure uninterrupted food production and supply chains, including the preservation of open borders for goods, both at an upstream and downstream level.

The alliance added that workers in food and beverage supply chains should be considered to be essential and therefore be allowed to work, with appropriate measures in place to ensure their health and safety put in place as well as to ensure public and private consultation for any policy decision around the supply of food to mitigate the effects of the crisis as much as possible.

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