INTRODUCTION

ASEAN’s strong interest in biotechnology as one of the main areas of cooperation in science and technology in ASEAN was recognized when the Working Group on Biotechnology was established in 1983, quite sometimes after the establishment of the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST) in 1978. The Sub-Committee on Biotechnology (SCB) assumed its present name in 1989. As one of the eight sub-committees under COST (Figure 1), the SCB is responsible for the management, coordination, evaluation and implementation of regional biotechnology projects in ASEAN. The SCB has been actively implemented activities involving most of ASEAN member countries, which presently comprises ten countries, particularly the older ones.

PRIORITIES IN BIOTECHNOLOGY COOPERATION

The cooperation in S&T in ASEAN is guided by the various initiatives, recommendations and decisions made by the various bodies in ASEAN such as the Summit of the ASEAN Heads of Government, the Meeting of Ministers for S&T, and the Meeting of COST. These Guidelines are therefore crucial as they will ensure that all activities undertaken by each ASEAN body are geared towards the goals and objectives that have been identified.

With respect to cooperation in biotechnology, the following serve as guidelines for the implementation of activities under the SCB.

1. Hanoi Plan of Action

The Hanoi Plan of Action (HPA) was adopted by the 6th ASEAN Summit held in Hanoi on 12-14 December 1998. The HPA is the first in a series of plans of action building up to the realisation of the goals of ASEAN Vision 2020. It has a six year time frame covering the period from 1999-2004. The progress of its implementation shall be reviewed every three years to coincide with the ASEAN Summit Meetings.

All ASEAN bodies, including SCB, have now been tasked to implement relevant actions under the HPA. A full listing of actions under the HPA can be seen in the ASEANWeb as follows: http://www.asean.org. The following actions selected from three sectoral areas of cooperation may be of relevance to SCB as guidelines in developing project proposals:

(a) Food, agriculture and forestry products

    • Conduct collaborative research to develop new/improved technologies in food, agriculture and forestry production, post-harvest and processing activities and sharing of research results and available technology; and
    • Conduct in critical areas to reduce the cost of inputs for food, agriculture and forestry production.

(b) Science and Technology

    • Intensify research development in applications of strategic and enabling technologies.

(c) Environment

    • Strengthen the ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation by establishing networks of relevant institutions and implement collaborative training and research activities by the year 2001.

2. ASEAN Plan of Action on Science and Technology (1994)

The Action Plan, which was adopted in 1994, provides appropriate guidelines for the identification and formulation of programmes and projects, achieve better coordination and cooperation and strengthen the capabilities in S&T within ASEAN. Among the six strategies and various actions identified in the Action Plan, the following two strategies and actions are of relevance to programmes under SCB:

(a) Supporting regional S&T programmes that are economically and socially beneficial to ASEAN

    • Identify private sector end-users of research results and seek active participation of the private sector;
    • Support improvement of standards, testing and quality assurance activities of the private sector;
    • Select priorities programme areas and projects that offer the greatest impact and the most benefits to ASEAN as a whole;
    • Establish a set of criteria for prioritizing programme areas and projects based on technical and economic factors; and
    • Identify centres of excellence for S&T development.

(b) Development of S&T human resources

    • Develop R&D human resources to meet sectoral needs; and
    • Establish an ASEAN S&T fellowship programme.

3. Medium Term Programme (1996-2000)

The Medium Term Programme for ASEAN S&T Development identifies the ASEAN COST Programmes and activities over the planned period of 1996 to 2000 in line with the objectives of the ASEAN Plan of Action on S&T.

Goals

The SCB seeks the following goals:

(a) to promote regional cooperation in biotechnology for the following:

      • development of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines;
      • improvement and production of selected bio-materials for agriculture and industry;
      • application of biotechnology improving quality and production of plants and animals and their products;
      • pilot scale design and computer control of biological reactors; and
      • environment and biodiversity conservation.

(b) to develop human resources along the above areas;

(c) to develop a network on biotechnology;

(d) to promote technology transfer and licensing its technologies; and

(e) to explore joint ventures with private sectors.

Specific Objectives

The specific objectives of the SCB are as follows:

(a) to carry out collaborative research on selected topics of the core projects in the areas of agricultural (plant, animal and microbial) biotechnology, environmental biotechnology, industrial biotechnology, and medical biotechnology; and

(b) to establish the ASEAN biotechnology information network

Priority Areas for 1996-2000

Four priority areas have been identified for cooperation in biotechnology in ASEAN for the 1996-2000 period as follows:

(a) Food and Horticulture Crops;

(b) Waste Management;

(c) Value-Addition to Natural Products; and

(d) Medical Diagnostics.

In line with the above identified priority areas, it should be noted that the levels of technology in ASEAN vary widely. Some member countries are more advanced than the others, in terms of human resources and R&D facilities. In addition, some members of ASEAN, particularly the new ones, may confine their involvement in regional activities initially to only specific areas such as agricultural biotechnology. All these factors should also be taken into account by SCB in developing collaborative research activities in ASEAN.

BIOTECHNOLOGY-RELATED CONCERNS FOR OTHER ASEAN BODIES

Although COST has been given mandates to undertake S&T cooperation in ASEAN, other ASEAN Bodies are also implementing biotechnology-related activities which are of the concerns of COST and its sub-committees. Of particular interest to the SCB are those activities under the purview of the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN) and Senior Officials Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries (SOM-AMAF). Since these ASEAN bodies address some issues which may be of relevance to SCB, more efforts should be made by the SCB to strengthen closer linkages with these bodies in the implementation of activities which are of concerns.

1. ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN)

One of the projects under the Working Group on Nature Conservation and Biodiversity, “ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (ARCBC)” is of particular interest to SCB.

The ARCBC, located in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines, was established with a total funding of 10.3 M ECU, where 8.5 M ECU will be financed through EC grant and 1.8 M ECU will be borne by the ASEAN member countries (AMCs). The duration of the project is five years commencing from the signing of the contract of the EU Long Term Technical Assistance (TAT). The overall goal of the project is to intensify biodiversity conservation through improved cooperation in a comprehensive regional context by assisting in setting up a network of institutional links among AMCs and between ASEAN and European Union (EU) partner organizations.

The project has four components namely: (a) Networking and Institution-building, (b) Training and Extension, (c) Research and Development, and (d) Database and Information Systems Management. The Centre is presently finalising its Work Plan.

2. Senior Officials Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries (SOM-AMAF)

SOM-AMAF established a Task Force on Harmonisation of Regulations for Agricultural Products Derived from Biotechnology under the initiative “Harmonization of Regulations for Agricultural Products Derived from Biotechnology”. The objective of the initiative is to explore the possibility of harmonization of national guidelines and regulations on the use of biotechnology derived products among ASEAN member countries.

Past activities which are of relevance to the Task Force include the convening of the following workshop and seminar:

  • ASEAN Workshop on Regulations for Agricultural Products Derived from Biotechnology, 1-2 April 1998, Singapore;
  • ASEAN Meeting on Regulations for Agricultural Products Derived from Biotechnology, 3 April 1998, Singapore; and
  • ASEAN Seminar on Risk Assessment and Public Awareness of Agricultural Products Derived from Biotechnology, 26-27 January 1999.

Future activities currently being considered by the Task Force include conducting a workshop specifically for officers from agencies involve in regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and implementation of collaborative projects. One project proposal to establish an ASEAN Public Awareness Programme on Agriculture-Related GMOs is under review.

A Draft ASEAN Guidelines on the Release of Agriculture-Related Genetically Modified Organisms is currently being circulated to member countries for comments. The guidelines will be established to ensure the safe transboundary movement and use in ASEAN member countries of agriculture-related GMOs. Further, the guidelines will provide a common framework for:

(i) assessment of risks of agriculture-related GMOs to human health and the environment; and

(ii) approval mechanisms for their release in ASEAN member countries.

The Sub-Committee on Biotechnology has been involved in some of the activities implemented by the Task Force, especially in forms of participation in Workshops and Seminars organised by the Task Force.

ASEAN BIOTECHNOLOGY PROJECTS

1. Past and Current Activities of the Sub-Committee

Among the few projects which were implemented by SCB in the past includes a collaborative project under the ASEAN-Australia Cooperation Project-Phase I and II: Plant Extracts and Carbohydrate Biotechnology Project. The Project, completed in 1994, was considered to be successfully implemented by SCB, and had accomplished the following milestones:

  • value addition of starchy products such as cassava and sago to glucose sugar;
  • diagnostic kits production and commercialisation for cell testing system for physiological value of herbal plants;
  • development of therapeutically and biologically active substances from plants;
  • publication of a book entitled “Biotechnology for Development”. And “The ASEAN-Australia Biotechnology Directory”; and
  • training for ASEAN scientists and technologists.

The Sub-Committee has also conducted a number of seminars and workshop covering various topics in the past with funding supports Dialogue Partners and ASEAN member countries (Table 1).

Currently, the Sub-Committee is implementing two projects funded by the Government of ROK and New Zealand. Six other projects are under various developments, with funding support from Dialogue Partners such as China and India and donor agencies such as UNESCO. The Sub-Committee is also initiating a cost-sharing project among ASEAN member countries. The listing of these projects are presented in Table 2.

2. Development of ASEAN Projects

The Sub-Committee on Biotechnology continues to develop project proposals to enhance the cooperation in biotechnology in ASEAN, in line with its objectives and goals. The Hanoi Plan of Action (HPA) also calls for all ASEAN bodies to implement activities to support the relevant actions under the HPA.

It is important to note that the project proposals being developed by the ASEAN Secretariat and any ASEAN bodies, including SCB, should meet the following criteria:

  • Regionality;
  • Consistency with HPA and Sectoral Priorities; and
  • Appropriateness of Strategy.

Any projects which do not meet the above criteria will be considered to be of very low priority.

 

TABLE 1.
LIST OF MAJOR SEMINARS AND WORKSHOPS
IMPLEMENTED BY THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON BIOTECHNOLOGY

No. Title Funding Source
1 Workshop on Biotechnological Nitrogen Fixation, Thailand, 23-26 May 1988 ASEAN-EU
2 Workshop on Production of Industrial Enzyme, Bangkok 14-17 January 1991 ASEAN-EU
3 Science and Technology Workshop, Melbourne, 11-15 March 1991 ASEAN-Australia
Workshop on Toxicology, Singapore 27 April – 9 May 1992 ASEAN-Australia
4 Workshop on Biotechnological Approaches to Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Disease, Bangkok, 24-27 February 1993 ASEAN-Japan
5 Formulation of Biotechnology Atlas, Daeduck, Korea, 7-11 December 1993 ASEAN-ROK
6 ASEAN-Conference on Biotechnology and Biodiversity, Bangkok, 28-29 August 1995 (in conjunction with the Fourth ASEAN Science and Technology Week) Thailand
7 ASEAN-India Workshop on Biotechnology, 26-28 June 1996 ASEAN-India
8 Workshop on Biosensor, 24-28 June 1996, Bangkok ASEAN-EU
9 Technical Conference on Biotechnology for Development of an Ecological and Sustainable Agriculture (in conjunction with the Fifth ASEAN Science and Technology), Hanoi, 12-14 October 1998 Vietnam

 

TABLE 2.
LIST OF ON-GOING AND PENDING PROJECTS OF
THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON BIOTECHNOLOGY

No. Title Funding Source
A. On-going Projects
1 ASEAN-ROK Workshop on Biotechnology Atlas ROK
2 ASEAN-New Zealand Cooperation in Biotechnology (pending implementation) New Zealand
B. Pending Projects
3 ASEAN-India Cooperation in Plant Biotechnology: Plant Biotechnology for Crop Improvement and Better Utilisation of Natural Resources India/Cost-sharing among AMCs
4 ASEAN-India Cooperation in Animal Biotechnology: Embryo Transfer Technology India/Cost-sharing among AMCs
5 ASEAN-Canada Biotechnology Information Network Canada
6 Sustainable Development and Utilization of Tropical Rainforest Plants form Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam-Chemical and Biological Prospecting of the Plants UNESCO/AMCs
7 Biotechnology Strategies: Development of New an Improved Biocontrol Agents for Pest and Insect Control in South East Asia UNESCO/AMCs
8 Workshop on Transgenic Plants China

Before a project can be implemented, it has to go through a series of processes and appraisal involving the various ASEAN bodies, such as sub-committees, committee and ASEAN Standing Committee, and the ASEAN Secretariat. To facilitate these processes, the ASEAN Secretariat has adopted a new procedure for formulating and appraisal of project proposals that need third-party funding support. The general steps of the new procedure are presented in Figure 2. Essentially, the role of the ASEAN Secretariat is to provide assistance in formulating project proposals, to facilitate the project approvals by relevant ASEAN bodies, and to maximise the use of ASEAN’s development cooperation funds.

FUNDING

Funding remains one of the key issues for successful implementation of regional programme on biotechnology.

1. Dialogue Partners

Past and present activities of the SCB have been supported by Dialogue Partners, namely Australia, Canada, European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. In the future, support from China is expected to be forthcoming.

Under the framework of ASEAN-Dialogue Partner cooperation programme, several ASEAN Secretariat-managed funds have been established to support various programmes/ activities including S&T. Among them which are of relevant to SCB include (a) ASEAN-China Fund, (b) ASEAN-India Fund, (c) ASEAN-ROK Special Cooperation Fund, (d) Japan-ASEAN Cooperation Promotion Programme (JACPP), and (f) Japan-ASEAN Exchange Programme (JAEP). To date, SCB has been utilising the ASEAN-India Fund and the ASEAN-ROK Special Cooperation Fund.

Since Dialogue Partner’s assistance may well diminish as a main source of funds because of changing circumstances, SCB may have to utilize other modalities more for funding its main activities in the future.


2. Cost-Sharing

Because funds from external sources are getting more difficult to get, ASEAN member countries are encouraged to consider cost-sharing as one of the main modalities to support biotechnology cooperation in the future. In line with the principles which govern the implementation of cost-shared S&T projects adopted by COST, three or more ASEAN member countries could decide to jointly undertake a project. The cost of the project will be shared by the participating member countries. For a core project, which is derived from existing national projects and are already funded by their respective countries, the additional cost required for its regional enhancement will be shared by the participating countries.

Under the ASEAN-India Cooperation Programme in Biotechnology, SCB is presently developing two cost-shared projects in plant tissue culture and embryo transfer technology. Under these projects, each ASEAN participating country will fund the national R&D components of the projects, while India will support the training component. Support for organising some meetings under these two projects are expected to come from the ASEAN-India Fund.


3. Other Sources

S&T activities have also been supported by international organisations or agencies such as WMO and UNESCO. In the area of biotechnology, however, two projects are currently being developed with partial support from UNESCO. SCB is also looking into the possibility of implementing a training workshop with funding support from Crawford Fund of Australia.

In many countries, including ASEAN, private sector is known to have strong interest in biotechnology. As a matter of fact, many private companies are now engaged in R&D activities in commercial biotechnology. In this respect, it is timely for SCB to develop a strategy to establish closer linkages with private sector to support the regional R&D undertakings as recommended by the ASEAN Ministers for S&T.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As the role of biotechnology in ASEAN becomes more important in the future, it is important for SCB to be more proactive in initiating collaborative research among ASEAN member countries and other developed countries, and focus its efforts towards the implementation of activities which support the achievements of its goals and objectives. At the same time, all activities should also be geared to support the implementation of relevant actions, particularly in the area of S&T, under the HPA.

Since the levels of technology among ASEAN member countries vary widely, the regional collaborative efforts should also provide opportunities for some countries to improve their R&D capabilities utilizing the networking already established. In line with the spirit of ASEAN cooperation, this could be done, for example, through the provision of training and research attachment for biotechnologists from the less developed countries in universities or research institutes in other member countries of ASEAN, or technical supports.