AFBA Report: Nutrition Labelling on Prepackaged Food: Impact on Trade in ASEAN

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The non-harmonisation of nutrition labelling has been identified as one of the top technical barriers to trade (TBT) in ASEAN, according to a survey conducted within the food & beverage industry in 2013. Since then, the ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance (AFBA) has put forward nutrition labelling as one of the recommended areas for harmonisation.

In 2017, AFBA, with the support of Food Industry Asia (FIA), initiated a new study with the University of Malaya’s Faculty of Economics and Administration to evaluate the impacts of non-harmonised nutrition labelling on food businesses in the ASEAN market. The aim is to understand technical barriers concerning nutrition labelling within each ASEAN Member State, and to recommend measurable interventions at the macro- and micro-levels, so as to facilitate the removal of these barriers and to open intra-ASEAN trade for the prepackaged food and beverage (PPF) sector.


Key findings from the report

From macro-level analyses:

  • The PPF sector is a promising segment of the foodstuffs industry in regional trade
  • The PPF sector is highly regulated in ASEAN
  • Nuanced differences in labelling requirements prevail across the region
  • Unexhausted trade potentials are evident in regional PPF trade

From micro-level analyses:

  • Complexity of nutrition labelling guidelines differ across the various elements of labelling, but the greatest concerns are around elements of nutrition claims and Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs).
  • Multiple costs are incurred by exporters complying with these guidelines, but the problems encountered are largely firm-specific
  • Complexity of nutrition labelling distorts regional trade, with both price and quantity effects
  • Streamlining of measures on nutrition labelling is needed due to regulatory incoherence and lack of transparency


Next steps

This study provides recommendations for a way forward for regulators at both national and regional levels, as well as members of the PPF industry sector. A three-step approach is recommended – firstly, adopt a standard format, align with Codex, and identify the minimum requirements within the basic nutrients list provided by Codex.

Secondly, streamline NRVs. And lastly, adopt consensus for the remaining elements: standardised Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) format and design; a common declaration list of carbohydrates, and list of minerals and vitamins; a common tolerance limit (based on necessity), rounding rules and decimal point conditions that are acceptable by all ASEAN Member States; and a common list of claims and criteria for nutrition claims.