The Emergence of ASEAN Regional Food Safety Governance: Structure, Substance, and Context

Ching-Fu Lin


Decades after its establishment, ASEAN has started to actively address food safety problems under a regional governance framework as foodborne diseases have been a significant public health issue in the Member States. Some ASEAN Member States with more technical, financial, and administrative resources have adopted various regulatory models, science-based rules, and border control measures. Less developed ASEAN Member States, however, are faced with many obstacles, such as incomplete and inconsistent laws and regulations, weak infrastructure for food supply chain management, and insufficient regulatory techniques and scientific expertise. Moreover, the agri-food sector in Southeast Asia is highly fragmented with many small and medium-sized players which have limited knowledge of complex food standards, making it strenuous to implement food safety regulations across the region. In light of such challenging situation, ASEAN has gradually strengthened regional cooperation on food safety with a number of key guiding principles, policy papers, cooperation agreements, and regulatory mechanisms since 2000. As argued by this article, a regional framework for food safety governance with clear contours has emerged. Of particular importance, ASEAN has animated the fundamental pillars of its regional food safety governance through bilateral cooperation with the EU, which has provided financial assistance and technical consultancy with the aim to export its best practices. Many ASEAN endeavors, as pointed out by this article, have followed the EU governance model through regulatory learning and institutional reproduction, including the “ASEAN Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed”
and the “ASEAN Risk Assessment Centre for Food Safety.” Nevertheless, the trajectory of ASEAN’s development of institutional arrangements and substantive policies and rules may not necessarily resemble its EU counterpart due to significant differences in the organizational setting and power distribution, decision making process, scale of institutionalization, legal and political system, level of economic development, society and culture, and market structure. As a matter of institutional design, this article highlights the crucial importance to probe into ASEAN’s embrace of the EU food safety governance model in terms of comparative regionalism and regulatory compatibility and to conduct more contextualized assessments in the long run.