According to Wai Mun Poon, an Asean regulatory affairs specialist with Brussels-based food law consultancy European Advisory Services (EAS), the regulatory talking shop is “almost there”.
In a timely manner
The countries negotiating have so far stuck to Asean’s planned timetable, with all clinical requirements expected to be complete by the end of this year.
“I think by the end of this year, by November, all the clinical requirements will be completed. Then, by the end of 2015, the agreement for harmonisation requirements will be signed by the ministers involved. Once this is done, the implementation process will begin by 2016,” Wai told FoodNavigator-Asia.
EAS, whose advisers also work with Codex Alimentarius and the World Health Organisation, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), has been following the process closely, and its representatives have attended each meeting.
The process started in 2004, when efforts towards bringing a harmonisation of standards in health supplements to take into account the many diversities that exist among the Southeast Asian bloc’s 10 member states began.
The move was designed to help the region stay safe and competitive while reducing intra-Asean technical barriers to trade. The harmonisation process set out to complement the national standards of individual Asean countries with standards, practices and guides that are in use overseas, in economic zones such as the EU.
“It’s a long process,” added Wai. “Imagine having so many countries trying to harmonise their requirements—it’s not easy. On average, each technical requirement has taken around seven years to complete, though the good thing is we’re almost there.”
However, in terms of implementation, Wai says more issues are still bound to surface.
“When it comes to technical areas like safety requirements, there’s no international reference so it’s not that easy to come up with a standard that will be approved by all 10 member states.
“You never know until it is implemented. Uniting so many countries into one framework is very ambitious.”