Commenting on the melting pot of cultures and political systems present in ASEAN, Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) president Sok Touch suggested exploring additional common initiatives, particularly an integrated intraregional food market, which he said could highlight member states’ confidence in the bloc and bring in players from elsewhere.
Sok Touch was speaking at the 17th Annual International Conference on “New World Order: Competition, Integration and Multipolarity”, held in Phnom Penh on December 20.
“ASEAN should form a joint market for food. Their politics are disparate, and their cultures and languages are all very different. One thing that they have in common is food. It plays a very important role, and a common market would be a valuable tool which would attract new partners to the bloc,” he said.
He said many of the larger powers are competing with other. Some of them claim to have taken ASEAN as their “bride”, but the interests of the bloc’s members are often different. This extended to the prices of potatoes and longans.
“ASEAN sells all kinds of fruits. There should be some kind of agreement in order to prevent superpowers purchasing from a single member and forcing competition between us,” he added.
He proposed that Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia work together to create a joint market, including mangoes, potatoes and rice. This would give them power within ASEAN and give the bloc its own cachets.
Yang Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, told The Post that in the era of globalisation, as long as export products, especially food, are produced to a similar or consistent standard, then a common market can be established successfully.
“If the quality of the goods differs from one country to another, it is impossible to create a joint market. This is a common challenge and the fact that each country in ASEAN has different standards and quality controls is a problem,” he said.
“We cannot create a common market yet, but we can work together to improve product sales within ASEAN and demonstrate our potential to the world. If we include countries with lower standards than our own, we will have to find trading partners who are willing to compromise,” he added.
He stressed that improved coordination to sell food products within ASEAN is a good thing, but a common market remains a long-term dream.
Pen Vuth, an adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said at the event that it is necessary to revolutionise the agricultural food system and modernise the agricultural sector by strengthening cooperation in climate change areas and the agro-food aspects of the supply chain.
At the November ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, ASEAN issued a statement affirming their commitment to strengthening food security, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. They announced their intention to do this through the full and effective use of the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) and the ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS).
ASEAN and China issued a joint statement at the same time, noting that both sides considered climate change, Covid-19, geopolitical conflicts and disruptions to supply chains the most serious challenges to the global governance of food security.
The two sides committed to ensuring food security for the more than two billion people in the region, ensuring the stability of regional food markets, and setting an example for global food security governance.