Achieving Food Security along with Regional Integration
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is the ASEAN countries’ commitment to regional cooperation and integration. A Blueprint was adopted at the 13th ASEAN Summit on 20 November 2007. In particular, it aims for the free movement of goods, services, investment, labour and capital by 2015. Though largely focusing on enhanced intra-regional trade, there is little discussion on its impact on national objectives such as food security.
Despite the importance of food security at a regional level, it has been traditionally viewed as a national imperative. In the case of ASEAN, members are divided by the lines of food self-sufficiency and food self-reliance. Food self-sufficiency leans more in favour of the production of various food items by domestic producers while the latter considers trade as an important factor in supplying local demand. Given these two approaches, one of the challenges of the AEC is to aggregate the interests of its members and help them achieve their objectives.
There has been a substantial achievement in the reduction of tariffs for the movement of goods but little else is known whether agricultural trade has increased in the past years. In 2009, agricultural exports of ASEAN countries only amounted to 10% of total exports while imports constituted only 6%. If agricultural trade was enhanced, what might be the potential impacts? First and foremost, its enhancement could facilitate economic growth to the creation of jobs and redistributes income especially to the poor. In the case of ASEAN, this is important since most of the member countries rely on the agricultural sector as a major contributor to their gross domestic product (GDP) and at the same time, it employs a large population of their workforce. Second, the agricultural sector can increase domestic supplies to meet the local demand. Third, it reduces overall supply variability.
Ultimately, the realization of the benefits of trade for food security depends on the policies and capacity of the member countries. There are costs and benefits to each policy action. However, benefits of regional cooperation can be maximised if complimented by national policies that are also attuned to regional objectives. This is due to the fact that national policies have repercussions at the regional level such as it has been in the case of the recent global food crisis. Similarly, other existing frameworks such as the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework, ASEAN Food Security Reserve and ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve should be seen as complements to the AEC and not as independent. Hence, ASEAN leaders should keep in mind that the full implementation of the AEC does not only entail enhanced cooperation in regional integration but also as a means to attain food security.
This blog post has been written by Maria Carmencita S. Morales. Maria Carmencita is an Associate Research Fellow at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies.
Last updated on 29/05/2013