Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo and his Indonesian counterpart, Thomas Lembong, said in a joint statement that they had now "reactivated" negotiations and talks would resume in May after a lengthy hiatus. The ministers also announced that they hope to strike a deal within the next 18 months.
Food processing and agriculture exports are among the categories that are expected to be fast-tracked ahead of any comprehensive economic partnership agreement.
"While Indonesia is a close neighbour and firm friend, our trade and economic relationship can and should be performing better," Ciobo said.
"I am pleased to announce the reactivation of the Indonesia-Australia Business Partnership Group to ramp up business links.”
Progress stalled due to a series of diplomatic and trade disagreements between Indonesia and its southern neighbour, including executions of Australian citizens in the country and anger over Australia’s tough immigration policy.
Live Australian cattle exports to Indonesia have also been a source of friction due to trade barriers erected by Jakarta in a bid to develop self-sufficiency in the Indonesian livestock market.
Differences over live cattle exports might be put aside in the hope of reaching a broader agreement more quickly, Lembong said.
"Sometimes maybe we need to call time out on the most contentious issues and work on areas where we can more easily find common ground," he told reporters in Canberra.
"Personally, my priority is to try to broaden the dialogue so we don't get bogged down on old issues of contention."
More stories from Southeast Asia…
Vietnamese lagging behind in stature due to poor diets
Unbalanced diets with too much sugar and salt and too few vegetables have been blamed for the substandard stature of Vietnamese people.
According to Le Bach Mai, deputy director of Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition, increasingly poor dietary habits has limited people’s intake of calcium, which is needed for growth, to just 50-60% of recommended levels. The country’s current average calcium intake, at around 500mg per person per day, has hardly changed since 1985.
Mai’s analysis was prompted by a national report which found that the average height of male Vietnamese youths— 164.4cm—was 13cm lower than the global average, while female youths were 10cm lower at an average of 153.4cm.
Rather than consuming food high in calcium, Vietnamese now have a growing preference for white bread, instant noodles, pastry and confectionery, and had also developed a thirst for soft drinks, Mai said.
“Vietnamese children prefer soft drinks to water, and even opt for sweetened milk when they have to drink milk,” she said. “This is a very different habit from that of children in other countries.”
“Many families let their kids drink carbonated soft drinks whenever they want, unaware that each can of soft drink contains from 36 to 63 grams of sugar, while the recommended intake of sugar is only 20 grams a day for a single person.”
Overconsumption of salt—on average three times in excess of recommended levels—is also becoming a significant health issue, Mai said, as is vitamin D deficiency in a country where only one in eight people meet required levels.
Malaysian health inspectors to probe bamboo chopsticks for chemicals
Malaysian officials will study disposable chopsticks to determine whether they pose risks to public health.
Regional media reports have recently claimed that bamboo chopsticks can contain chemical preservatives. If this is found to be the case, they will be banned from sale, said health minister S Subramaniam.
"Normally, when we have these kind of reports, we will study them and look for scientific evidence before coming up with a conclusive decision,” he told media.
He said if the chopsticks were found to contain harmful chemicals or preservatives beyond permissible levels, the ministry's food safety department would act to prevent their sale.
The media reports have been in response to a video has went viral about Taiwan allegedly banning China-made chopsticks which were said to contain high level of chemicals.
Malaysian regional bodies, including the Consumer Association of Penang, have since warned of the dangers of using disposable chopsticks.
The association’s research officer was reported to have said that bamboo chopsticks were likely to have been submerged in preservative chemicals.
Thailand opens doors for Japanese halal investment
Japanese noodles and seaweed are a step closer to being exported to Muslim countries after the Tokyo officials signed an agreement with Thailand’s National Food Institute that aims to bring investment from companies interested in halal certification.
According to the NFI president, Yongvut Saovapruk, Japanese companies have been increasingly interested in Thailand’s halal potential and were looking to invest in its islamic food industry. The country now ranks ninth for halal food exports and has its own established market, particularly in the largely Muslim southern provinces.
"The Japanese are not familiar with halal food, which requires a deliberate process including acquiring the raw materials, the cooking process and cooking standards that have to match specific religious requirements,” he said.
"By changing some of the procedures, the same product can be sold to a broader group of customers in those growing Muslim communities."
Yongvut signed the memorandum of understanding with officials from Japan Halal Development and Promotion, a government agency for boosting halal food standards in Japan and promoting Japanese food products in Muslim countries.
Under the terms of the MOU, the NFI will assist Japanese investors to gain the official halal trademark from the Central Islamic Council of Thailand.
Halal food accounts for roughly one-third of Thailand’s overall foods exports, which amounted to THB897bn (US$25.55bn) in 2015.
Sensient opens Singapore flavours, colours and fragrances application centre
Sensient Technologies Corporation is the latest ingredients supplier to open a technical development and application centre in Singapore, through which it plans to offer customers local formulations from its global portfolio of flavours, colours and fragrances.
The new facility, which opened its doors last week in Biopolis One, will employ food scientists, flavorists, colour chemists and applications scientists.
“This facility enables us to replicate our customers’ own manufacturing processes, making it easier to develop products and technologies that can be tailored to their specific application environments,” said Paul Manning, president and chief executive of Wisconsin-based Sensient.
“It is at these globally connected innovation centres where our people and our insight into our customers’ processes have enabled us to achieve a position of strength in our local markets.”
Singapore is increasingly becoming home to development centres for multinational companies as suppliers such as DSM, Palsgaard and Barentz use the location to tailor their ingredients specifically for Asia-Pacific markets.
“The new facility will enable us to work more closely with our customers to satisfy their product, application technology and innovation requirements, as well as helping to inspire their next generation of products,” Manning added.