Trading in synergy

Azlan Othman

The ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) benefits the nation as it provides a platform for its members to share information on importation and exportation of products, food packaging and labelling as well as requirements of each ASEAN nation. It also promotes connectivity within the food and beverage (F&B) industry.

This was said by AFBA executive board member representing the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Brunei Darussalam Haji Halim bin Saim.

AFBA comprises national association in Southeast Asia involved in the food and non-alcoholic beverage sector. Their scopes of work include regulatory harmonisation, mutual recognition among Halal certifying bodies, and trade promotion.

Its vision is to support harmonisation efforts across the region and provides a voice for the ASEAN food industry as well as to coordinate industry efforts to deliver effective input and practical guidance on ASEAN policies to unlock the food sector’s growth potential in and out of the region.

The challenge to achieve harmonisation is multi-faceted, Haji Halim said. This includes the complexity of technical requirement; the diverse regulatory landscape; and the lack of mutual understanding between regulators and the industry.

AFBA Executive Board member representing the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Brunei Darussalam Haji Halim bin Saim. PHOTO: AZLAN OTHMAN

Even though ASEAN member states have signed a number of free trade agreements (FTAs) to facilitate trade and investment with other Asia-Pacific economic partners, it does not adequately address regulatory and other non-tariff measures (NTMs), which are more important than tariffs to securing regional integration.

In some instances, NTMs can become trade-distorting barriers, called the non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that increase compliance cost.

Speaking on the development of Halal industry in the region, AFBA applauded the effort in the establishment of Halal Food Guidelines discussed during the ASEAN Working Group on Halal Food (AWGHF) meeting in 2019, and its approval during the Senior Officials Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry.

Haji Halim also relayed several AFBA inputs during the drafting of Malaysia Procedure for the Recognition of Foreign Halal Certification Bodies in February. The AFBA raised concerns relating to the use of QR code on label, broad categories of recognition, recognition of Foreign Halal Certifying Body (FHCB) within the country of origin, and lack of provision for grace period in the event of the delisting of recognised FHCB.

Meanwhile, during the enforcement of the Regulation for the Implementation of Halal Product Assurance in April, the AFBA highlighted issues on international cooperation based on government-to-government (G2G) agreement and the lack of progress on the establishment of bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) and mutual recognition agreement (MRA), as well as the lack of provision for cross-country certification.

The AFBA believes the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) provides stronger disciplines on the application of NTMs by RCEP participating countries (RPCs), said
Haji Halim.

These include the enhanced transparency, cooperation and technical consultations among RPCs that could lead to the development of clearer criteria and procedures in identifying NTBs and/or high trade-distorting NTMs, and as well as concrete mechanisms in addressing them.

The RCEP also includes a provision on future work programme for sectoral initiatives, providing an opportunity to introduce sector-specific obligations to address unnecessary barriers to trade in the F&B sector, he added.

“To achieve harmonisation of regulation, the cooperation from all sectors plays an imperative role.

“AFBA is also committed to supporting the need for greater public-private partnership to carry out capacity building efforts and these are seen as vital to equip industry members on regulatory understanding,” he said.