APEC seeks to beef up food, product safety

 @ibtimes
on September 05 2007 9:43 AM

Asia-Pacific nations are trying to map out a more robust approach to strengthening the region's food and product safety standards as ministers from the 21-member bloc opened their annual meeting on Wednesday.

The measure is among a number of initiatives outlined in a draft declaration prepared for the meeting of trade and foreign ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum ahead of their leaders' summit at the weekend.

We agreed on the need to develop a more robust approach to strengthening food and consumer product safety standards and practices in the region, using scientific risk-based approaches, and without necessarily compromising trade, the draft declaration says.

The ministers called for greater confidence in food safety standards.

We obviously take very seriously this whole issue of food safety, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters. There needs to be greater confidence in standards. I think there's a consensus about that.

APEC member China has been battling a torrent of warnings and recalls abroad that have shaken the confidence of international markets in the made-in-China label on products ranging from toothpaste and toys to food and tires.

Toymaker Mattel Inc on Tuesday announced a third recall of Chinese-made toys, saying it would take back more than 800,000 units globally with impermissible levels of lead.

The food and product safety measure is among a number of initiatives APEC is undertaking to enhance security in the region, including potential threats from terrorism, drugs and contaminated products, pandemics and the consequences of natural disasters.

The declaration notes that security is essential to economic growth and, in cooperating on that front, APEC members will remain closely attuned to the needs of business.

DELIBERATE CONTAMINATION

APEC has begun work on a recovery program to revive trade in the event of a terrorist attack and a set of principles to help protect the food supply against deliberate contamination.

The draft declaration calls for harmonizing security standards to reduce transaction costs for businesses across the region.

The draft declaration says energy security can best be met through efficient energy markets, characterized by free and open trade, secure and transparent frameworks for investment, clear price signals, market transparency, good governance and effective competition.

On trade, APEC will be focusing this year on behind the border issues, including structural reform, competition policy, strengthening capital markets, combating corruption, promoting good governance, and a more certain legal and regulatory climate.

But Malaysia, a vocal critic of the organization, said it opposed any moves by APEC to impose its own standards on policy reforms.

Malaysia is of the view that APEC should not impose an APEC template for domestic structural reforms, Malaysia's trade ministry said in a statement.

The draft declaration gives short shrift to a U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

Senior officials say the group instead will try to come up with model measures that can be standardized for the dozens of bilateral and regional free-trade agreements now in force or under negotiation in the region.

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said Tokyo supported a very pragmatic and gradual approach to the idea of a regional FTA, adding officials had been asked to re-draft a report into the concept.

Trade ministers from several countries had raised concerns a regional pact could undermine WTO negotiations and conflict with APEC's non-binding rules.

APEC's economies -- which include the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- account for nearly half of global trade and 56 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

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