Dodwell in SOM 2 Meetings at Kazan - Post 5

May 30, 2012

May 30, 2012, Kazan, Russia

Wednesday’s inaugural Policy Partnership on Food Security (PPFS) could so easily have become a fiasco. The baldest of agendas meant that most participants arrived without any clear knowledge of what was going to be discussed or how. Conspiratorial huddles on the margins of the meeting created a highly charged and combative air as the meeting began. Some wanted to plunge straight into discussion of projects. Others wanted to work on defining long term strategic objectives and a framework for achieving them.

The Russian Chair, Sergey Aleksashenko, had his hands full managing this unprecedented amalgam of government officials and business leaders. Stress levels were high in part because of high expectations. As one member noted: “We can make such a big difference in so many peoples’ lives.” As the Chairman noted in a letter circulated immediately after the boisterous meeting:  “All of us became participants of an experiment – political leaders of the APEC economies (for the first time) decided to listen to the opinion of the business community.”

For the business members baying to crank progress, Aleksashenko’s reminder was important. Those who emerged frustrated at the absence of concrete outcomes may do well to remember what a big leap this was for Government officials in many APEC economies – not just to bring business leaders around the table, but to open up a subject that for many has been taboo for decades – trade liberalisation in the farm sector.

For all the frustrations voiced over the day, some fascinating presentations were tabled, and some potentially important outcomes were outlined. The agenda kicked off with an audit of food policies in the region – and provided two important and sobering insights: first, a total of 12 APEC economies sought self sufficiency and food independence, rather than wanting to rely on open markets for trade in food products. In short, a majority of APEC members are still inclined to protectionism in farm trade. Second, few governments are yet addressing the issues of food waste; fisheries and aquaculture as a component of food security; or bio-security. Since the issue of food waste is perhaps the single clearest concern for ABAC and the business sector, that was a bit of a shock.

Conspiratorial huddles as the Policy Partnership on Food Security begins its inaugural meeting

Among the other presentations, I was particularly proud of the contribution from my fellow Hong Kong member of the PPFS, the global “bar code” partnership GS1. Their call for region-wide collaboration on application of standards applying to bar codes – as a means of creating more efficient, safer and sustainable value chains – struck a powerful chord with many officials around the table and triggered a large amount of follow up conversation. Here was a practical business-based proposal that offered huge value in food safety and food security to all member economies – improving food supply-chain visibility both in domestic markets and for internationally traded food, enhancing traceability and recall of unsafe foods, reducing costs and driving supply chain efficiency, building consumer confidence in food products, and contributing to strong economic growth. Their ideas are likely to be taken further.

For ABAC, the key challenge liked to the PPFS is to define where we best go from here. After battling for more than a decade to establish this unprecedented group, we obviously have a powerful interest in ensuring it makes an effective contribution. One clear priority for many member economies is to tackle “post harvest food loss” –how to reduce losses through spoilage or waste along the food chain “from farm to fork”. Maybe ABAC itself needs to champion this. A second clear priority would be Infrastructure Development – not just the hardware, but software like logistics and supply chain connectivity. Chair Sergey Aleksashenko emphasised two other challenges that should be prioritised – food quality and safety, and how to secure sustainable growth in production. He is calling for members to feed back to him by June 5 so he and the PPFS Management Council can propose an action plan.

Beyond this, a key challenge will be how to sustain momentum. It seems there is no plan for the PPFS to meet again until SOM2 in 2013 – a full year from now. I see at least four things we in ABAC can do to keep the ball rolling:

  • We should use ABAC3 in Ho Chi Minh to agree and ABAC strategy on Food Security, and make sure this gets into our letter to leaders, and is discussed in Vladivostok in September

  • We should make sure that those existing APEC Working Groups dedicated to food-related issues take up relevant initiatives and take them forward

  • We should encourage the creation of PPFS “task forces” to drive forward on agreed priority issues

  • We should draw on the work of ABAC’s existing working groups to identify and prioritise food security-related initiatives linked with their work.

Despite some fraying of nerves, I think this was quite an exciting start. As the US Co-Chair noted: “The PPFS has the opportunity to do things differently.” At the Russian-hosted cocktail that followed the meeting, I believe quite a number of members drank to that.

ABAC Members Tony Nowell and Anna Buduls visiting Russian cows on a Kazan farm – never say ABAC Members are unwilling to get their feet dirty!

* Read Dodwell's other blog posts from Kazan.


[ Back ]