(This speech was delivered during the 14th Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry in Bandung, The Republic of Indonesia, October 1992)
Bandung, Republic of Indonesia
October 8, 1991
While several parts of the world are beset with various economic problems, ASEAN member states have made tremendous progress as well as strengthening and expanding regional cooperation.
In the face of increasing protectionism, ASEAN has, over the years, made commendable progress to enhance the status of agriculture and forestry through the formation of integrated economic communities and trade arrangements. For this, credit must be accorded to COFAF and its subsidiary bodies.
Farmers adopting new technologies in agricultural production and the growth of small and medium scale agro-forestry is testimony to the changing face of the rural scene.
When our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr.Mahathir Mohamad took over the reins of government 11 years ago, we decided then to put people before production. In the past we have been more interested in rubber than rubber tappers, more interested in rice production than in padi planters, and in cocoa than the cultivators. We are changing to give more attention to the people than produce.
As such, we have Agro-Sport, and Agro-Golf or Golf Tani. This has been introduced in the hope of fostering better understanding and interaction between officers and private sector.
The first prize is usually nothing less than a buffalo, the sheep being second and the rabbit, third. For wooden spoon, we have offered eighteen gram eggs and for hole-in –one we have offered a horse.
This is probably the first time in the history of golfing that animals are involved.
We have brought sport to the farmers and in the process, discovered that our fishermen have broken the National swimming record. In other words, you could face a lot of problems in the next Asian games when we just might enter our fishermen.
When I asked the victorious fishermen why they did not participate in the national level swimming events, they merely said that they were not invited.
Hence, we have learned not to ignore fisherman in mainstream national sport activities. Now that we have agro-sport for farmers and fishermen, let us hope in future we will have an ASEAN Farmers and Fishermen’s Sport Meet.
We have carried out a census to determine the number of musically inclined farmers and fishermen in the country. From this exercise have emerged a Farmer’s Symphony Orchestra.
We have also trained more than 30,000 rural women in international cooking. This will, appreciably, broaden the gastronomic horizons of the rural masses.
We in ASEAN have taken a balanced view of economic development, in particular, the issue of poverty, improving the quality of rural life and industrialization. We have succeeded in reducing this scourge to 17 percent from 47 percent within 20 years. We are proud of this achievement and would like to share it with you. We are now in the process of establishing with you. We are now in the process of establishing WIPER—World Institute for Poverty Eradication.
As for the quality of rural life, we have launched and have seen the result of our national landscaping competition. We would like our farmers and fishermen to live beautifully landscaped surroundings. From this we hope to transform Malaysia into one huge garden within seven to ten years. If this is also undertaken by other ASEAN states, the whole region will be turned into veritable garden.
Our landscaping campaign comprises competitions for the best office surroundings, best plantation setting, best landscaping within fishing villages, most outstanding landscaping of farming areas and many more. To the uninitiated, all these may sound rather eccentric, but it is working out well.
Poverty eradication, improving the quality of life and industrialization are reflected in the relative peace and prosperity of farmers who have benefited from the development projects.
Several of the projects undertaken jointly with ASEAN member states have enhanced the group’s individual development efforts. The ASEAN-EEC Aquaculture Development and the ASEAN-Canada Post-Harvest Fisheries Technologies are example of such projects.
I am convinced that the ASEAN framework can play an important role in forging closer collaboration in accelerating the development of the fisheries sector within the region. I am also glad that the ASEAN Fishery Federation has succeeded in establishing the ASEAN Restaurants in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, And soon, the remaining capital cities.
When I first broached this idea many years ago, I did not mean seafood restaurants and did not mean them to be set-up within the ASEAN region.
The idea was to get the ASEAN private sector to open restaurants in cities where our national airlines coverage. We could have one such restaurant in Los Angeles. The restaurants will serve as a goodwill ambassador for the ASEAN region besides providing a cultural and, most important, a gastronomic insight for Angelinos.
However, it is not easy to get the private sector to do this. Probably, one feasible way is to start with the current practice of operating ASEAN seafood restaurants that could provide spin-offs for setting up of a chain of operation covering the capital cities of the world.
In livestock, emphasis is on the upgrading of our ability to control disease in the region. Topics such as the ASEAN Standards for Vaccines, eradication of the Foot and Mouth Disease and the reinforcement of animal quarantine stations are permanent issues discussed at the technical level. The ASEAN poultry Disease Research and Training Center has made significant contributions in this area.
We are also aware of the need to preserve our natural resources and quality of our environment as has been demonstrated by several forestry projects such as the ASEAN Timber Technology Center, The ASEAN-Canada Tree Seed Center and the ASEAN Institute of Forest Management.
Malaysia recognizes the important role of forest within the context of the environment. However, as environmental issues transcend national interest, we feel there is a need for a balanced perspective in addressing these issues. Within this context, at the recent United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, Malaysia has endorsed and accepted the ‘Non-Legally-Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests.’
Simultaneously, Malaysia became a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Currently, efforts are being made in Malaysia to facilitate the full implementation of the Convention.
To counter the Anti-Tropical Timber Campaign waged by certain developed countries, a Malaysian delegation led by the Minister of Primary Industries visited Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. This was followed by a joint mission of officials from Indonesia and Malaysia to Japan.
I would like to suggest a similar mission to Austria, as our efforts confirmed that these missions have helped to disseminate the truth about forestry management and conservation in the region. Similarly, the move recently by Austria against tropical timber must be addressed expeditiously. We have to put a plug on this trend before it becomes endemic.
Over the years, COFAF has brought together the experience to plan and implement its projects. With the Fourth ASEAN Summit’s decision to dissolve COFAF and the other Economic Committees effectives January 1, 1993, an appropriate mechanism has to be worked out to deploy the redundant officials in matters that had previously come under the purview of COFAF.
ASEAN has established a number of regional training institutions, and their future financing is of concern to us. As an example, I would like to refer to the ASEAN Plant Quarantine Center and Training Institute (PLANTI) that from 1981, has trained about 2,000 Plant Quarantine Officers besides undertaking valuable search.
Following the cessation of USAID funding assistance to the center in June 1992, the training program had to be considerably curtailed. An ideal funding mechanism has to be worked out for PLANTI as well as the other regional training institutions affected for their continuation as ASEAN projects.
We have noted with interest and support the program whereby farmers from countries facing food shortages are invited to Indonesia to live with the local farmers and learn the farming skills that Indonesia has to offer. We believe that this will go a long way and it is also in line with the idea of having a Farmer’s Week and the fostering of closer people-to-people contact.
I have no idea what sort of support to be given but I believe it is important we take note of this gracious gesture by Indonesia. I think it will go a long way towards realizing the arms of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and cooperation among developing countries.
Even as ASEAN economies are progressing towards industrialized economies, agriculture is expected to remain an important sector to contribute not only in the form of primary produce but increasingly, as a supplier of raw materials to the industrials sector in the manufacture of high- value added products as well as generating more employment.
This vision is expected to hold true in this decade and decades to come. However, the agriculture sector in ASEAN will have to meet the challenges that will become more apparent. The increasing trend towards protectionism, inward-looking, trade-diverting regional and other trade arrangements by ASEAN’s major trading partners and the development of new technology that renders existing technology obsolete, compels the region’s agriculture sector to urgently undertake measures to enhance competitiveness and modernization.
This is necessary if ASEAN’s share in the world market for agricultural products is to be maintained.
The Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations under the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) is in a state of paralysis. There has been no substantial progress for the past one and a half year.
The importance of the Uruguay Round for all our economies needs no elaboration. All efforts must be made to achieve a successful and balanced conclusion in all areas, including agriculture. The Round must not be left to drift and remain an academic undertaking. ASEAN, on its part, must continue to pay the active role it has thus far made successful in all areas of the negotiations.