A recent report revealed ASEAN's road to harmonisation through collaborative public and private sector efforts to develop an agreement that allows cross-border regulation of health supplements. Since 2004, ASEAN's Member States have faced challenges in uniting regulation and reducing trade barriers between key countries. 16 years later, the ASEAN Allicance of Health Supplements Associations (AAHSA) and the International Allicance of Dietary Supplement Associations (IADSA) discuss the background of the agreement and the strategic colloration working towards achieving harmonisation.
Primary challenges preventing ASEAN Member States from achieving harmonisation across the supplements sector since 2004
There have been many challenges, and as an example of one, at the outset there was wide-ranging disparity in terms of ASEAN members’ regulatory regimes, with some states having very established systems, some having very basic ones, and others having none. During the process, a lot of work has also taken place to ensure that everyone is conversant with the science that lies behind the decisions being taken. In addition, it has taken time to build an understanding of everyone’s role in the process—including that of industry. Lastly, it has been important to build an understanding that the purpose of harmonisation is to facilitate trade in health supplements.
How the AAHSA group has been structured to play a critical role in aligning private and public sectors
AAHSA was structured to be involved in three areas in order to support the ASEAN health supplements industry and facilitate harmonisation:
- AAHSA has been an official member of the ASEAN Consultative Committee on Standards & Quality’s Traditional Medicines & Health Supplements Product Working Group (ACCSQ TMHS PWG). Key participants included Daniel Quek (Chairman of AAHSA), Dr BH Lim (Chairman of the AAHSA Scientific Committee) and Leng Leo (AAHSA Secretary). However, we must not forget the national industry associations who are members of AAHSA and have also provided valuable support.
- In addition, AAHSA has participated in the ASEAN TMHS Scientific Committee (ATSC), in order to facilitate understanding of, and agreement on, the new standards—using the latest scientific and technical expertise.
- IADSA, AAHSA and national associations have also represented the ASEAN supplement sector in discussions with local policy makers, ministries of health, and other ministries, in order to showcase the practical economic and healthcare advantages the supplements industry in ASEAN can offer.
Important collaboration with IADSA
Co-operation between IADSA and AAHSA collaboration has been crucial to demonstrate that the interests of the global and ASEAN health supplements industry are not in conflict with regulators’ goals, and that they lie in the facilitation of better quality and greater access for consumers. The aim has been to develop a harmonised regulatory model for the ASEAN health supplement sector that will be the first truly science-based practical global model—one that can be a reference for harmonisation efforts worldwide. IADSA’s global experience and its learnings from the US and other countries—as well as the EU's work to harmonise—have greatly informed AAHSA’s approach. IADSA’s ability to provide the latest scientific technical expertise, as well as global regulatory perspectives, has provided important reassurance and added value to ASEAN regulators.
What does the ASEAN harmonisation means for improved quality control and trade regulation
With a harmonised, science-based regulatory regime, ASEAN regulators and consumers will have peace of mind that the most appropriate product safety, quality and labelling standards will be implemented. It will mean easier access and cost savings for both manufacturers and consumers, since major barriers to trade will be eliminated or minimised. Trade opportunities within ASEAN, and externally, will be facilitated.
Daniel Quek is Chairman of AAHSA