Dodwell's blog on SOM1 Ningbo - Post 4

February 24, 2014


Given that the Government-Business Dialogue on Food Security in Ningbo yesterday was China’s opening statement as PPFS 2014 Chair, under the leadership of the State Administration of Grain, there probably should have been no surprise when we were carpet bombed by a full day of 10 minute presentations on every aspect of China’s impressive grain industry.
 
Of course, grain was not the only issue tabled, but a dialogue it was not. Perhaps understandable given China’s need to set a clear direction for the year clearly had to show allegiance to the largest and probably most complex component of its vast food economy.
 
All was not lost however. As always, the real business gets done over food. The many mealtime conversations with Chinese officials, Chinese businessmen, and other participants from APEC economies, showed a level of willingness and flexibility to share and contribute that was refreshing, given the difficult birth that PPFS has historically endured.
 
This Government – Business ‘dialogue’ addressed three fundamental issues at the core of the food security debate: how to exert the decisive role of the market and better play the role of the government on food security; how to reduce food losses and waste, and share supply management; and how to promote regional co-operation on food quality / safety management and standardisation, and other issues.
 
The first ‘markets and government’ session talked a good deal about public sector – private sector partnerships, the need for liberalisation of investment in food supply chains, the need to create value chains that are viable for all players,  and the need for sustainable production and reliable trading systems to underwrite free trade. This was all good stuff and completely consistent with the ABAC agenda and well supported by solid input from the US grain industry.
 
The opportunity for re-litigation of the Roadmap Towards 2020 was not lost however, although this time the engagement was mercifully short.
 
The second segment, ‘reducing loss and waste, while sharing supply chain management’, was an impressive display of storage and transportation technology uptake in China’s grain industry, with frequent reference to support and technology sharing from Australia, Canada, Germany and the US.
 
This session did venture beyond grain, with an interesting consumer centric perspective on loss (an upstream ‘production’ related issue) versus waste (a downstream ‘consumer’ issue) in food supply chains, and a suitable focus on the importance of cold chain infrastructure development as a major contributor to loss reduction. There was a revealing presentation from COFCO on its rapid strategic development and contribution to the imported component of China’s food security.
 
Academia and science got a look in, with a good expose by Canada on clever and successful research being done on the reduction of causative loss factors pre-harvest.
The third and final session focused appropriately on ‘promoting regional co-operation on food quality / safety management and standardisation’, giving an opportunity to reinforce the point that there are global and regional mechanisms already in force that need to be enhanced and leveraged.
 
This last session was also used by some to highlight more challenging issues, with one private sector participant seeking to question “who decides safety of foods?”, arguing quite rightly that the increasing morass of public and private food safety regulations were generating unacceptable costs, and that the processor must make money first and foremost! Whilst the sentiment was understood, the delivery will certainly have sent shivers up the spine of the food safety community.
 
The conflict that exists between the concept of the ‘Blue Economy’ and the challenge of food security was again highlighted by a very detailed presentation from Hong Kong’s Pacific Andes  on the complexity of servicing the region’s rapidly increasing need for fish protein, whether from the sea or – increasingly – from aquaculture.
On a number of occasions during the day, whether for grain or other food types, the spectre of genetically engineered solutions to food security raised its head. It is a debate that the PPFS needs to have, with US soy and grain industry representatives highlighting the stark reality of the extent to which the world’s food chain is already benefitting enormously from these technologies. Seemingly, Frankenstein has yet to raise his head.
 
By day’s end a number of positions were changing noticeably. Japan was heard in the margins to be openly advocating a GE debate (with willing support from the US soy industry), and discussions were heard to be taking place on the development of bilateral or plurilateral projects covering issues from rural development to cold chain infrastructure development.
 
The real ‘meat and potatoes’ (no pun intended) of this first PPFS meeting of the China APEC Chair will be the outcome of the Management Council meeting scheduled for Sunday February 23rd. The Chinese Chair openly sought advice and suggestions for inclusion in the 2014 program, but it remains to be seen to what extent the overarching state food apparatus will allow innovative suggestions and ambitions to flourish.
 
 
 

Shangri-la Ningbo, focal point for the majority of Senior Official meetings, and home for us for two weeks
 

Ningbo at night
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