Asean must enhance food security

THE economic procuring of marine commodities from fisheries for the purposes of trade and consumption by Asean member states is instrumental to preserving food security in the region – fundamental to the livelihood of millions of people – given its increasing demand. The ever-growing depletion of marine resources threatens Asean’s marine industrial complex, exacerbating the region’s food insecurity. The Asia Foundation found that 64% of the fisheries’ resource base in Asean is at a medium to high risk of significant depletion.

This puts Malaysia in a dangerously precarious position as its own domestic fish supply is dwindling by about 20-30% and its alternative option of importing marine products from Asean member states is consequentially becoming more restricted, increasing foodstuff prices and worsening shortage – disrupting the country’s resources and the livelihood of millions. 

As such, this issue requires restitution, to ensure both Asean and Malaysia are able to satiate market demands and ensure the people’s wellbeing.

A more holistic interpretation of food security must be adopted, given the importance Asean assigns to fisheries as it not only accounts for 9% of global fish exports but it significantly depends on these collections internally to meet the demand of southeast Asian consumers. The issues that plague Asean, therefore, serve to undermine maritime security and as a consequence asphyxiates the region’s food security. This has been made evident by the fact the region experiences significant stress in meeting demand as it has yet to completely recover from disrupted supply chains and global economic stagnation. This necessitates an immediate, concentrated policy resolution that solves the region’s internal strife brought about in the area of maritime, which threatens its food security so as to ensure greater fortification for the foreseeable future.

Asean has demonstrated historic efforts to offset food insecurity by initiating security arrangements in its 2016-2020 fishery plan of action by enacting policy arrangements. There remains underdeveloped areas, as a result of bureaucratic incoordination at the Malaysian domestic substrate and an ever-growing presence of outside threats and internal, geopolitical issues that overwhelm Asean’s regional cooperation at the international level, causing stagnation in the area of maritime security. What is needed is immediate developments in issues latent in both Malaysia and Asean’s security issues in the area of maritime policy that would see the adoption of a consolidated and holistic framework strengthening Malaysia and Asean’s pre-existing policy initiatives – ensuring more efficacious conservation efforts – as it better delineates and clarifies the marine responsibilities of the member states and policy measures that accommodate the strategic interests of those member states, strategically encouraging them to participate in better governed management, to enhance greater resilience against food insecurity. There are significant challenges that continually places Asean and Malaysia under significant duress. Maritime piracy instigated by foreign entities have economically ravaged Asean’s marine economy with the exploitation of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone contributing dramatically to the nation’s food insecurity due to under management, weakening defence forces.

The effects of climate change – oceanic pollution and weather disruptions – have considerably affected Asean and Malaysia. Asean’s current initiatives in the region are found in its Strategic Plan of Action on Asean Cooperation on Fisheries 2021-2025, but they remain inadequate as there is yet to be the inclusion of policy manoeuvres that promote the recovery of fish stocks in the South China Sea. Maritime experts have similarly advised Malaysia to consider the consolidation of a wider security framework, as security operators at sea suffer from underdeveloped international cooperation from its maritime neighbours, finding it strenuously difficult to thwart large-scale illegal fishing and address the ramifications of climate change.  

An Asean Common Fisheries Policy has yet to be instantiated, as it still in its development stages, but has shown potential to significantly enhance marine conservation efforts if implemented, as its strategies gear towards the restitution of depleted fish stocks, the management of environmental catastrophes and the combatting of pirates. It is the necessary update to Asean security. This would have the advantage of targeting particular threats towards maritime security in a way that better accounts for issues that continue to increase in intensity. 

A strategic partnership between Malaysia and the European Union policy makers to spearhead an Asean Common Fisheries Policy is imperative. International efforts are viable, seeing as Asean has historically sought assistance from the EU for its fisheries policy framework under the Enhanced Regional EU-Asean Dialogue Instrument.  

Asean ought to explore how the policy framework would contribute to the bolstering of particular, quintessential areas of maritime security, in the context of large-scale illegal and unregulated fishing, and maritime environmental sustainability in the context of climate change impacts. 

An Asean Common Fisheries Framework, pertaining to the strengthening of maritime security policies, would emulate the EU’s model of zero tolerance, that is to refuse the importation of fishery products via the issuance of yellow, red cards to countries ascertained to be an instigator of illegal maritime encroachment in Asean territorial waters, which may be rescinded upon given cooperation. It would encourage joint-monitoring and surveillance efforts by Asean member states and persistent diplomatic dialogues as to parties that have contributed to the worsening of the issue in order to mitigate the surge of illegal unreported and unregulated fishing – ensuring that greater pressure is exerted on hostile parties as an counteracting instrument for deterrence while procuring diplomatic solutions to maritime conflicts. 

The EU’s blanket prohibition of foreign fish boats in the area so as to delegitimise the efforts of illegal syndicates proved to substantially decrease IUU activity – with a reduction of 90% since 2014. The effectiveness of the policy is contingent upon the joint-surveillance of EU member states, maintaining a balanced, distributed effort, to collectively enforce the necessary penalties to dissuade illegal activity. 

The present policy framework, upon critical analysis, appears to also suffer from underdeveloped strategies needed to encourage and impel the actions of regime actors to produce outputs in the service of sustainable development – improving the quality of its climate change mitigation practices that affect fish habitats. Commitments to curtail carbon emissions have depreciated among Asean member states, further distancing them from net carbon neutrality. EU’s strict stipulation for member states to reduce carbon emissions in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 ensures nations recognise the urgency of climate change adaption.  

The nature of Asean’s institutional framework inadvertently stymies its efforts to encourage its member states to abide by climate change policies – given its lack of force. This can be achieved by further strengthening logistical support to countries that lack the aptitude to increase maritime defence and active promotion of policies and objectives. Trade deals and economic incentives could also be leveraged to encourage other Asean member states. This mechanism could incentivise other countries to take steps to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. 

An adaptation of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy would ensure that the aforementioned framework undergoes the strenuous metamorphosis necessary to leverage its policies so as to to impel member states to curb its carbon emissions in order to mitigate rising sea levels that threaten the security of the welfare of its maritime aquaculture. – March 20, 2023.

* Pravin Periasamy reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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