Filipino food processors are calling for a summit meeting on food quality so its industry and government can develop "offensives" to counter the rising protectionism in the form of non-tariff barriers to trade being erected by other countries.
"Instead of being defensive, we have to be offensive," said Jesus Tanchanco, president of the Philippine Food Exporters (Philfoodex).
"(Protectionism) will continue because countries will increasingly use food quality as a non-tariff barrier so as not to dislodge their local industries," he said.The summit is envisioned not only to come up with a unified stance, but will also draft a set of standards that the Philippines could use in "controlling" the influx of imported foodstuff.
"Whether coming in or going out we also have to control imports in conformity with local standards," Mr. Tanchanco explained. "Right now, we are lax in controlling imports so we're being flooded with imported foodstuff."
However, since coming up with standards is difficult and expensive for the local industry alone to undertake, his group is calling for government assistance, both in expertise and financing.
"We have to get our act together and be united in addressing this problem. Now we have to go to different agencies to address this problem," Tanchanco said.
"It's not only the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) or the Department of Health (DoH) that has to get involved, but also the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) and other concerned agencies. We would like to get all of them together to address the issues in a unified way, and not as separate agencies," he added.
Mr. Tanchanco said the different agencies should forge an agreement and put up a one-stop-shop centre to coordinate concerns handled by these agencies.
The Philippine Exporters Confederation (PhilExport) recently reported that the European Commission has issued guidelines affecting imported flavouring substances. In a directive, the EC issued rules pertaining to the use of flavourings, their labelling requirements, and the tolerable levels of "undesirable substances present in foodstuffs."
Affected flavourings include natural, identical, artificial flavouring, preparations of animal or plant origin, and process flavourings. The EC would draw up a registry or list of flavouring substances affected by the new guidelines upon completing an evaluation program.
On the other hand, the United States and Thailand have drawn up additional requirements for food imports.
The Thai government is now requiring processed food exporters in other countries to secure a certificate of good manufacturing practice (GMP). The new regulation affects 57 food items, including food and beverage in sealed containers, food additives, infant food, fish sauce, tea, vinegar, semi-finished and frozen food and meat products.
The US, meanwhile, has included Philippine food exports in a new directive requiring certification by a Philippine government agency that a food product has met certain minimum standards in processing. Affected products include beef or pork extracts, beef or pork bouillon cubes, and dehydrated soup mixes.
Meanwhile, DA said yesterday it will study the new regulations imposed by EC and Thailand regarding processed foods and food additives.
In a telephone interview, assistant secretary for agriculture Segfredo R. Serrano said the DA has already been notified about the issue but it still has to conduct discussions on the matter.
"We have received notification on these matter. This is up for discussion. We will evaluate this and we find a scientific basis that these measures are unreasonable then we will take further action," he said.