With the increasing population in ASEAN, the demand for agriculture products is expected to more than double in the next twenty years, offering rural small-scale farmers an opportunity to transcend absolute poverty. With the embarking of ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, which will develop the region into a single market and production base in goods and a competitive economic region with more equitable economic development, the agriculture sector plays a key role in this regional architecture. Through the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint, adopted by the ASEAN Leaders, the ASEAN Cooperation in agriculture will focus its efforts on the promotion on intra-ASEAN and external trade, improving competitiveness, quality assurance and ensuring safety standards of farm produce.
The global demand requires not only for more agriculture products but also good quality products. However the lack of good agriculture practices and standards is considered as a key impediment for ASEAN agriculture development. In responding to these obstacles, the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF), in 2006 and 2014, has endorsed the ASEAN Agricultural Best Practices, which consist of Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), Good Animal Husbandry Practices (GAHP) and the Good Aquaculture Practices (GAqP) as tools to improve quality assurance, enhance quality of products, and minimise hazards in food safety, environmental impacts, and worker health, safety and welfare. It is important to note that these standards are process standards. The ASEAN GAP for instance, is a standard for the production, harvesting and post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables. These standards are developed at the regional level and when AMS do not have their national standards, these regional standards are usually adopted as national standards. There is a set of separate ASEAN standards for certain agricultural products, such as mango, pineapple, durian, papaya, pomelo, rambutan, mandarin, lansium, guava, mangosteen and watermelon, which ensures that these commodities are available fresh to the consumers after preparation and packaging. Aside from serving as safety assurance and quality control measures, standards have lately been used for product differentiation and market penetration. As such, the efficacy and impact of these standards and guidelines on enhancing ASEAN trade is determined by how the governance systems in agriculture value chains are set, implemented, monitored and enforced.
The ASEAN regional standards that have been developed, up to now, serve a limited purpose. Several AMS currently use the standards as a reference to harmonise national standards across the region and to develop such standards when they are not available. Compliance and certification is currently at the hands of national bodies and there is a variance in the procedures involved which means that further harmonization to the underlying processes including tests of competence for certifying bodies would be
necessary. The standards could, and should, be further utilized, not only for standards harmonisation, but also for region-wide mutual recognition of quality ASEAN agricultural products that resulted from the application of those standards. While harmonization may be a long term-goal, ASEAN should also consider equivalence (i.e. recognizing the other country’s standards, although not the same, but as equivalent for as long as it achieves the same level of protection or objective). ASEAN has acknowledged the need to identify an efficient mechanism for implementing the standards (namely GAP, GAqP and GAHP) as well as promoting the ASEAN standards for both national and regional levels. Given their voluntary nature for producers’ implementation, there are differences in the application of these standards by the AMS. To maximise their potential and increase usage for transboundary transactions, a mutual recognition system among the AMS is needed. This mechanism will define how the ASEAN standards are applied and operationalized, at the national and the regional level, by various relevant institutions at both levels, through new or existing regional institutions and mechanism such as the ASEAN Sectoral Working Groups and Experts Working Groups (ASWGC/EWG GAP, ASWGL, ASWGFi).
Note that small farms usually lack the capability and economies of scale to have effective quality assurance and traceability systems, which may leave them out. Hence, any proposed mechanism should be cost-effective and inclusive. This project will conduct a study to identify the essential elements for such mechanism to work in the ASEAN region or beyond, identify existing institutions and arrangements (including any accreditation and certification system, mutual recognition agreements and
application of equivalence) that can be utilised as part of the mechanism, their feasibility (including costs and benefits) and provide various options for its operationalisation as well as recommendations for an effective and sustainable regional mechanism for the mutual recognition of ASEAN agricultural best practices.
31 August 2015