AFBA works towards a harmonised framework in the region
On 20 February 2019, board members of AFBA gathered in Bangkok for its Annual General Meeting, where AFBA also organised engagements with two key government agencies in Thailand. These engagement sessions provided an opportunity for AFBA to present the alliance’s work and invite inputs on how to strengthen existing efforts at a national and regional level.
Greater alignment of strategies with FDA Thailand
Dr Pichet Itkor, President of AFBA, headed a team of delegates during the meeting together with Ms Suppattra Boonsern, Director of the Food Bureau and her team from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Thailand.
Discussions revolved around the need to address two key concerns relating to product registration and nutrition labelling, which will ease difficulties faced by food companies and encourage greater harmonisation.
In a survey carried out with industry members, one of the challenges raised with regards to product registration included the need to provide notarised Free Sale Certificate and Food Safety Certificate. To address this concern, FDA Thailand shared their plans to accept e-certifications issued by accreditation and certification bodies, subject to agreement that is carried out on a G2G platform.
Due to the different development stages of ASEAN member states, harmonisation has become more challenging and is a topic that remains top-of-mind among industry bodies and regulators.
In order to gain a better understanding of priorities and constraints of each member state, AFBA and FDA Thailand agreed upon a step-wise approach which will help to provide further clarity on the attainable measures that can lead to greater regulatory convergence. Tolerance limits and decimal point conditions used for declaration purposes in the Nutrition Information Panel were highlighted as potential areas for member states to align on.
At the meeting, FDA Thailand also outlined their main priorities and sought the support of industry members in areas such as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), quality assurance in laboratory testing, consumer education and risk management. AFBA put forward a suggestion to organise a technical training with local industry members in Thailand by partnering the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).
To strengthen ongoing efforts taking place in the public and private sectors, a consistent dialogue between government agencies and industry associations is imperative to ensure all stakeholders are aligned on mutual concerns and work on the effective implementation of policies and regulations for the benefit of the food sector.
Facilitating public-private partnerships with ACFS
AFBA delegates also met with Ms Metanee Sukontarug, Advisor at the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodities and Food Standards (ACFS), who is also Chairperson of the ASEAN Consultative Committee on Standards and Quality (ACCSQ) Prepared Foodstuff Product Working Group (PFPWG), to discuss AFBA’s ongoing engagements with PFPWG on harmonisation efforts.
The Working Group was established to address the elimination of technical barriers to trade for prepared foodstuff among member countries. In 2018, the ASEAN Sectoral Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Inspection and Certification Systems on Food Hygiene for Prepared Foodstuff Products was signed by all 10 ASEAN member states. In the same year, PFPWG started to look into the area of nutrition labelling harmonisation.
AFBA expressed its support for more public-private partnerships to facilitate greater harmonisation in the region. Beyond communicating the concerns of the industry, such partnerships allow businesses to better understand the work of the public sector and provide further support.
Consensus has been established as the language of ASEAN diplomacy, and thus reinforcing the need for alignment between member states on key decisions that are undertaken at the regional level.
Beyond the ASEAN platform, national engagement is critical for AFBA to foster alignment among member states. It plays a strategic role in understanding the concerns of member states and facilitating discussions, in light of the broader picture of the harmonisation work at PFPWG.
As the first step towards a successful public-private partnership, AFBA recommended organising a workshop with PFPWG to allow more in-depth discussions between the committee and industry members. ACFS welcomed the suggestion and as a follow up, AFBA will be putting through a formal request to PFPWG.
Under the ASEAN Sectoral Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Inspection and Certification Systems on Food Hygiene for Prepared Foodstuff Products, the ASEAN Common Food Control Requirements are included as part of the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) and are thus, legally binding. As ASEAN member states enter into the implementation phase, it is crucial to ensure that gaps amongst countries are minimised and all parties are aware of the relevant requirements.
In line with that, ACFS put across the request to AFBA to provide support in raising awareness of food hygiene standards within ASEAN, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The meetings with FDA Thailand and ACFS presented new insights to AFBA, which will be useful for the alliance moving forward as it seeks to support harmonisation efforts across Southeast Asia and to provide a voice for the ASEAN food industry at the policy table.