An ASEAN Q and A with Bev Postma, Executive Director of Food Industry Asia

bev_postmaWith the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community now only six months away, Bev Postma explains how the food industry is working with partners and policymakers to advance food issues


1. To what extent does the AEC create a single point of contact/decision making group which can be targeted by corporate PA professionals.

ASEAN already has a clear hierarchy and structure in place for Public Affairs professionals to target – from working groups to committees and all the way up to ministerial level. Given the large volume of interactions and the limited capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat, companies have been encouraged to streamline their engagement through one of the many regional industry associations.

If we take the food industry, an example would be the Harmonisation of Standards Task Force reporting to the Prepared Foodstuff Product Working Group (PFPWG), which in turn reports to the ASEAN Consultative Committee on Standards and Quality (ACCSQ), Senior Economic Officials Meeting (SEOM) and ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM).

In 2013, Food Industry Asia (FIA) worked with leading industry associations in ASEAN to launch the ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance (AFBA). This semi-autonomous body was designed to engage directly with the AEC Committees and to represent the united voices of the food industry in all ten member states. Its membership spans a broad cross-section of businesses in ASEAN, including both large and small enterprises who share a common interest in accelerating the removal of technical barriers to trade.

2. Are our strategies set to change, or will you still remain very focused on the individual member states and the key decision makers within them?

FIA and AFBA were designed to engage with governments at a regional level in ASEAN but we also work with national governments through strategic partnerships with the national industry associations and Chambers of Commerce in each of the ASEAN Member States.

3. Do you think the AEC is on track to meet its core goals and targets or will we see significant delays on the more controversial elements?

Much progress has already been made but there is general consensus that the AEC is unlikely to achieve all its goals by December 2015. The agri-food sector has proved particularly problematic, especially in the removal of non-tariff barriers. Harmonisation of standards for the processed-food sector has barely started and will require a significant investment by member states in both capacity building and private-sector engagement to achieve its post-2015 targets.

4. What do you perceive to be the key opportunities the AEC presents for business?

The ASEAN market presents a tremendous opportunity for business. It consists of over 600 million people (3rd largest in the world), a combined GDP of close to US$3 trillion, more than 60,000 items in ASEAN have zero import tariffs, a growing middle class which creates a high consumer demand, natural resources, good connectivity, developed financial and infrastructure elements and could act as a gateway to other Asian markets. These factors coupled with the fact that, ASEAN has AFTA’s with each other and other countries, provides opportunities to business in a range of different sectors.

5. How can industry and commerce play a greater role in leveraging the AEC to press for removal of barriers and a greater focus on free trade and common regulation?

FIA is working with the ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance to promote the following recommendations for ASEAN n behalf of the Agri-Food sector:

a) Establish mechanisms to effectively identify and eliminate Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB’s), address barrier components of NTMs (e.g. clear criteria on identification and removal of NTBs, regular review of NTM’s via a peer review mechanism, regular consultation/dialogue with the private sector, and business surveys).

b) Harmonise standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures in alignment with international practices and develop Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

c) Simplify and eliminate unnecessary elements and duplication in customs and certification procedures by adopting best practices (e.g. advance rulings, rational/liberal set of origin criteria, self-certification system on rules of origin, electronic Certificate of Origin, etc.).

d) Enhance transparency
– Trade repository or a user-friendly NTM database (with feedback mechanism features)
– Notification procedures and an effective surveillance mechanism.

e) Increase public-private sector consultation/ collaboration.