Deni Ghifari, Jakarta – Represented by Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan, the Indonesian government has signed four mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) to harmonize ASEAN member countries' standards and practices in food safety, building and construction materials, as well as the manufacture of medicinal products.
With its signature, Indonesia is pushing for regional standardization to remove nontariff trade barriers and facilitate the free flow of goods, both within ASEAN and in a global context.
"The aim is to minimize trade obstacles and increase trade facilitation in ASEAN," said Zulkifli on the sidelines of the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting in Semarang, Central Java, on Sunday. Zulkifli added that the first MRA was the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Mutual Recognition Arrangements (AFA MRA), which would function as the legal constitution for other MRAs aimed at harmonizing standards and regulations across the ASEAN region.
The second one, the ASEAN Food Safety Regulatory Framework Agreement (AFSRFA), would pave the way for regionally integrated food safety standards.
Zulkifli said the European Union had achieved good integration on food standards and implied that this MRA was partially inspired by EU policies in the same field.
The EU has an integrated approach to food safety that uses traceability and precautionary principles as basic concepts, under which imported food products must meet the same safety requirements as those produced in the EU itself. In Indonesia, food safety standards are imposed and governed by the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM), and each ASEAN member country has its own standards and regulations.
"We are ASEAN, we have been close for so long. We have the RCEP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership], but it looks like we keep acting on our own," said Zulkifli.
"We will unify standards in the services sector," he added, referring to another result of the AEM called the ASEAN Services Facilitation Framework.
The third MRA is the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangements for Building and Construction Materials (MRA BCM), to recognize certification of individual member states across the ASEAN block.
The minister claimed that the enforcement of this MRA would do away with additional costs and guarantee a high quality of products.
The last MRA signed by the minister constitutes a standardization of practices in the manufacturing of medicinal products, which has been effective since 2015.
The signing on this MRA was intended to amend the agreement and is called the Protocol to Amend the ASEAN Sectoral MRA for Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) Inspection of Manufacturers of Medicinal Products.
Inked in an ad referendum manner, the MRAs are subject to approval by the other countries before they can be implemented.
The 55th AEM Meeting brings together more than 500 delegates from 10 ASEAN member countries and a dozen ASEAN trade partners from Aug. 17 to 22.
The topics discussed in the meetings range from free trade agreements and RCEP membership to trade impediments.