The United States Government and ASEAN marked the launch of a three-year project to facilitate the trade of food commodities in Southeast Asia today at the ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta. The project, Maximizing Agricultural Revenue through Knowledge, Enterprise Development, andTrade (MARKET), aims to improve food security for ASEAN Member States and contribute to ASEAN regional integration by enabling freer movement of food products and commodities.

“Boosting food trade will improve the lives of ASEAN citizens by reducing costs and increasing the variety of food products available in local markets,” said U.S. Ambassador David Carden. “More trade provides more business opportunities, which translates into new jobs in the transportation, manufacturing, wholesaling and retail businesses that depend on a ready supply of agricultural products.”

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The MARKET project will provide flexible and demand-driven support to the ASEAN Secretariat, while bringing more private-sector and civil-society input into regional agriculture policy dialogue.  By building an environment that reduces barriers to trade, ASEAN trade will increase, thereby decreasing the risk of another food price crisis.

“The experience of 2007-2008, when food prices shot up because of concerns about the rice crop, convinced ASEAN that food security was an issue critical for the future of this region.  A strong desire to improve food security is one of the issues that unite ASEAN Member States,” said ASEAN Secretary General, Dr Surin Pitsuwan.

“Private businesses and farmer organizations can make a strong contribution to ASEAN policy development, and show ways to bring down costs while adding value to the food production and distribution process,” added Michael Yates, Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Development Mission for Asia.

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Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Economic Community, Mr. Sundram Pushpanathan said, “ASEAN intends to hold a number of food security conferences to gather input from the private sector and we see this as an important process to build sustainable food security in the ASEAN region and to support our efforts to build an ASEAN economic community.”

As the 2012 ASEAN Chair, Cambodia’s Permanent Representative to ASEAN, Ambassador Kan Pharidh added, “ASEAN Member States should come together to address the problem of food security by taking into account the implementation of the ASEAN Integrated Food Security (AIFS) Framework, and Strategic Plan of Action on Food Security (SPA-FS) in the ASEAN region (2009-2013), especially for those who live in the natural disaster-prone areas. Cambodia will work closely with all ASEAN Member States and in partnership with the United States of America to operationalise the MARKET program.”  He further added that “food security will be one of ASEAN’s priorities next year.”

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