New ASEAN project to facilitate trade of fruits and vegetables on borders kicked off. Experts say equipping border officers is the urgent priority.

Although only 30 per cent of trade takes place within ASEAN countries, Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam trade heavily among each other in agricultural goods.

In creating friendly trade environment among the three countries and ASEAN, a new project, Facilitating Trade for Agricultural Goods in ASEAN or FTAG, was officially kicked off on 11 October 2017 to encourage the free flow of agriculture goods, particularly fruits and vegetables across the neighbors.

ASEAN defines trade facilitation as “creating a consistent, transparent, and predictable environment for international trade transactions that increases trading opportunities and help businesses, including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to save time and reduce costs.”

“We are very concerned on food safety and phytosanitary measures,” said Mr. Wichar Thitiprasert, Advisor, National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), Thailand. “We have movement of goods between Thailand and Viet Nam, and there is a number of fruits and vegetables we trade together with Cambodia. But, we still have some gaps between the three countries on the regulations and procedures and in border trade.”

These gaps include, for example, a lack of common understanding among border officials on the regulations concerning food safety and phytosanitary measures and procedures between countries which can create delays in trade and cause the quality of agricultural goods to suffer.

Mr. Wichar said: “What we need urgently is to train the officers to be a good inspector and enable them to efficiently issue the phytosanitary certificate.”

H.E. Hean Vanhan, Director General of the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Cambodia, also stressed the importance of building capacity to officers carrying out these duties.

He explained, for instance, that: “Phytosanitary certification starts from the capacity of the staffs to inspect–to select sampling and check for pests and diseases, identify the results, and then issue the phytosanitary certificate.”

According to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), phytosanitary certification attests that exported goods meet the phytosanitary import requirements in order to protect plant health and prevent the spread of plant pests and diseases.

Senior government representatives of Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam recently met at the launching of the project in Bangkok, Thailand where the first Steering Committee Meeting was also conducted.  The aim of the two-day meeting was to create common understanding of the project, define roles and responsibilities of parties concerned and project implementation procedures, and identify potential fruits and vegetables to be the focus of the project.

For this new project, its aim is to focus on the development of recommendations for the alignment of regulatory framework on food safety and phytosanitary measures and procedures in selected countries and ASEAN. It is viewed as part to increase intra-ASEAN trade, which is one of the goals between ASEAN Member States in the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint.

Following the meeting, an assessment study of the proposed potential crops and regulatory framework and procedures to identify existing challenges, barriers, gaps and recommendations needed among the three countries will be conducted. The results will be presented at the next Steering Committee in April 2018.

“Efficient facilitation of trade in goods, especially in agricultural products, could create benefits including improved food security, import and export income and increase capital to improve productivity,” Ms. Tran Thuy Dung, government official, Viet Nam Sanitary and Phytosanitary Notification Authorities and Enquiry Point said.

Facilitating Trade for Agricultural Goods in ASEAN or FTAG is part of the Global Project on Trade Policy and Trade Promotion Fund commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The project is implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in collaboration with ASEAN Member States under the umbrella of the existing ASEAN-German project ‘Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS)’. Outcomes and recommendations drawn from the project will be channelled into ASEAN. The project duration is two years (June 2017 – June 2019).

By Natasha Angsakulchai and Rojana Manowalailao, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems