Policy Picks: Malaysia lockdown, COVID-19, sugar-related policies and more feature in our round-up

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Malaysia lockdown, COVID-19, sugar-related policies and more feature in this edition of Policy Picks.
Malaysia lockdown, COVID-19, sugar-related policies and more feature in this edition of Policy Picks.

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Malaysia lockdown, COVID-19, sugar-related policies and more feature in this edition of Policy Picks.

Malaysia in lockdown: COVID-19 reignites food supply fears in Singapore despite government reassurance

Malaysia’s announcement that borders of the entire country will be closed for two weeks​ in an attempt to control the local spread of COVID-19 has led to renewed panic in neighbouring Singapore, which imports large amounts of fresh produce from the country, despite government reassurances that food supplies ‘would continue’ as usual.

This was two-week-old Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s first major crisis announcement after ousting predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad from Parliament in early March.

“The government’s priority now is to avoid the spreading of new infections, which will affect more people. [Therefore], drastic action needs to be taken [and] the government has decided to implement the ‘restriction of movement order’ starting from March 18 to March 31,”​ Muhyiddin said in a live telecast on March 16.

‘Crippling’ suggestion: Australian plan to nearly double fresh produce export costs slammed

The Australian Department of Agriculture’s (DoA) recent suggestion to implement new regulations that will lead to an over 40% increase in export costs for fresh produce​ has been met with fervent disapproval by the local industry.

The new regulations were proposed as part of the department’s attempt to update its overall charging framework. As stated in its report, Cost recovery implementation statement: plant export certification 2019–20 report, the DoA emphasised cost recovery, or regulatory charges, as the best way to safeguard the industry.

“The government has determined cost recovery (regulatory charging) to be the most appropriate mechanism for funding export certification as opposed to commercial charging (depending on the private sector) or taxation,”​ said the agency.

“There are additional benefits to funding export certification through cost recovery too. When a business pays for the activities it receives, the government has an obligation to justify the prices it charges. Cost recovery also increases the cost consciousness [of] how much a government activity actually costs.”

Nuclear no more: Singapore latest APAC nation to lift all Japanese food bans

Singapore has joined Philippines, Brunei and New Zealand in officially lifting bans on all food items from Japan​, but some strict restrictions remain in place from China, Taiwan, and South Korea due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Both China and Taiwan continue to maintain complete import bans on certain foods, especially those originating from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba. China also has additional bans in place for food from Miyagi, Nagano, Nigata and Tokyo.

According to data from the Food Industry Affairs Bureau under the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), this applies to just about all types of food products, including rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, tea, medicinal plants, milk and dairy products, meats, fishery products and processed foods.

Sugar barter: Indonesia reduces rules for Indian imports to sweeten palm oil trade

Indonesia has relaxed the quality requirements for sugar​ entering the country to allow Indian supply in, as part of a barter exchange to secure palm oil export access to the latter and to deal with dwindling local supply.

Indonesia is known to be the biggest sugar importer in the world, but the Indonesian government tightly controls and regulates the local sugar industry, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

However, a harsh drought season and ageing local sugar mills have seen dwindling local supplies of raw sugar, leading to a likely gap between supply and demand in the country.

‘Goalpost shift’: Singapore’s new sugar-sweetened beverage labelling rules ‘could confuse consumers’

Singapore has announced a colour-coded labelling scheme for pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages ​(SSBs) based on sugar content by volume – a move that has already drawn dissent from the local food and beverage industry.

The labelling scheme was announced by Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong in parliament on March 5 2020. Dubbed ‘Nutri-Grade’, the nutrient label will have four different grades: ‘A’ (dark green), ‘B’ (light green), ‘C’ (yellow) and ‘D’ (red).

Grade A drinks will have the lowest sugar and saturated fat content, whereas Grade D will have the highest.

“This provides a quick, at-a-glance summary of the nutritional quality of the beverage, allowing consumers to compare across products at the point of purchase. Besides the grade, we will indicate the sugar level of the beverage as a percentage of the total volume,”​ said Tong in his announcement speech.

Related topics Policy All Asia-Pacific COVID-19

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