Compliance with food safety issues are becoming an increasingly important determinant in market access. The fall-out from health scares related to food can have global and long-lasting negative consequences. It is therefore important to enhance cooperation in food safety and create the confidence for increased trade.
Hence, in 1998 the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) called for APEC Leaders to commit to building an APEC Food System as a comprehensive approach to action in the food sector.
In 1999 in Auckland, New Zealand, APEC Ministers agreed that the overriding objective in building the AFS would be "to efficiently link together food production, food processing and consumption to meet the food needs of our people as an essential part of achieving sustainable growth, equitable development and stability in the APEC region." That same year, Leaders adopted the ABAC report on the APEC Food System proposed by ABAC and endorsed its key recommendations to:
Address rural infrastructure development;
Disseminate technological advances in food production and processing, and
Promote trade in food products.
Since then, APEC has recognized that the underlying objective of ABAC's original proposal for AFS is the widening of markets into a single regional market. The desired result is to improve the efficiency of food production and trade for the benefit of APEC Member Economies. Progress on these goals is reported annually through the AFS chapter on the Individual Action Plan (IAP). In addition, all Working Groups and sub-fora include activities relevant to the APEC Food System in their SCE reports.
In May 2011, APEC held the third Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF) in Big Sky, Montana. This forum included delegates from 18 member economies. During the meeting, members reinstated their commitment to work together to strengthen food safety systems and progress towards a safe food supply and harmonization of food standards with international standards, as recommended in the World Trade Organization’s SPS/TBT agreements. This commitment is made with a view to improve public health and to facilitate trade in the APEC region.
The APEC Food Safety Incident Management Workshop was also held in May 2011 in Big Sky. Around 100 delegates from a range of government, industry, academic and other organizations from 18 APEC economies attended the workshop. The key recommendation was the establishment of an APEC FSCF Food Safety Incident Network that would have as its primary objectives;
- Improved information-sharing and communication, including on risk assessment, risk management and risk communication, among member economies to provide accurate and timely information on emerging food safety issues or in the event of a food safety incident;
- Development and implementation of FSCF-agreed approaches to improved food safety incident preparedness, response and recovery mechanisms within APEC; and
- Strengthened participation of member economies in the World Health Organization’s International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) and other international networks to increase the ability to respond to food safety emergencies of global significance.
The overall conclusion from the workshop was that there is significant preparedness and goodwill from government and industry to work together in a true partnership approach to improve the APEC region’s capacity to deal with emerging food safety issues and resultant food safety incidents.
The APEC FSCF and the World Bank signed an MOU to explore opportunities for deepening the working relationship with the World Bank on carrying out capacity building activities to promote and support food safety.
The 2007 APEC Leaders' Declaration emphasized the importance of food safety and Leaders agreed to "develop a more robust approach to strengthening food and consumer product safety standards, using a scientific risk-based approach, and without creating unnecessary impediments to trade". Leaders also agreed that "additional capacity building in this area is a priority".
APEC initiatives to advance the AFS have since included the development of a framework to strengthen cooperation in food safety activities across member economies, as well as to share information and build capacity in the region to harmonize food safety regulatory frameworks with existing international food standards.
To further strengthen food safety, the first meeting of the Food Safety Cooperation Forum was held in April 2007 in Hunter Valley, Australia. Some 60 regulators from 16 economies participated and a strategy for capacity building in the region was developed at the Forum and endorsed by the SCSC.
In terms of food security, APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade met in Arequipa, Peru in 2008 and noted the dramatic increases in prices of many food products. They collectively agreed that APEC economies could play an important role in the global response to this crisis by maintaining a commitment to open markets and to trade and investment liberalization. Particularly, Ministers emphasized the importance of sufficient levels of investment in agricultural technologies, as well as economic and technical cooperation that will help increase agricultural productivity.
To this end, APEC Senior Officials initiated a process to review APEC activities in the area of food and agriculture which resulted in the APEC Food Security Work Plan. APEC Leaders agreed to support a fully coordinated response and a comprehensive strategy to tackle the food security issue.
In addition, ABAC released a "Strategic Framework for Food Security in APEC" in 2009 that was designed to achieve food security in the region through effective implementation of the AFS. The paper recommends that APEC should refocus on a comprehensive AFS approach that tackles in a holistic way access to food, availability of food, supply reliability, trade liberalization, food safety, dietary health, environmental security, climate change and sustainability.
Chinese Taipei hosted an "APEC Food Security Forum" on 18-20 August 2010 in Taipei. This Forum brought together food security related senior government officials, experts from both public and private sectors, and scientists from member economies to discuss issues related to food security including investment, environmental and trade facilitation.
The Market Access Group (MAG) held a workshop on "Non-Tariff Measure and Non-Tariff Barriers Affecting Trade in Food and Agriculture Products in the APEC region" on 19 September 2010 in Sendai, Japan. This Workshop included discussions by businesses, academia, and regulators on food security issues relating to transparency, labeling, and unnecessary and unintentional non-tariff barriers to trade in food products within APEC.
Preparations for APEC's first-ever Ministerial Meeting on Food Security (16-17 Oct 2010, Niigata, Japan) were progressed at the Senior Officials Friends of the Chair (SOM FOTC) on Food Issues held at the first Senior Official's Meeting (SOM1) in February 2010, SOM2 in June 2010, and SOM3 in September 2010. The latter meeting included a dialogue with the business community through ABAC. The SOM FOTC is also working closely with relevant APEC fora on an Action Plan on Food Security which is expected to be one of the concrete deliverables for the Ministerial Meeting on Food Security.
Thanawat SIRIKUL (Mr)