ASEAN's Emergency Rice Reserve Schemes: Current Developments and Prospects for Engagement

By Dano, Elenita | Women in Action, December 2006 | Go to article overview

ASEAN's Emergency Rice Reserve Schemes: Current Developments and Prospects for Engagement


Dano, Elenita, Women in Action


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted a food reserve scheme to ensure food security in the face of unexpected instabilities in supply and production brought by a gamut of factors, through the ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve in 1979. While the model was never actually put into practice through its 27 years of existence, it has inspired the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), another regional group, to adopt a similar scheme in 1987. More recently, the biggest trading partners of the ASEAN in East Asia, namely Japan, China, and South Korea, comprising the so-called "ASEAN Plus-Three," have pumped life into the dormant scheme by expanding the ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve into the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve (EAERR) guided by the same objectives with some structural and operational changes.

Emergency Rice Reserve: ASEAN Scheme vs. East Asia Scheme

The ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve was originally established as part of the implementation of the ASEAN Food Security Reserve Agreement (AFSR) signed by the ASEAN Ministers of Foreign Affairs in 1979. Under the AFSR, Member Countries have committed to voluntarily provide rice--the primary staple food in Southeast Asia--into a common regional stockpile for the purpose of meeting emergency requirements resulting from severe fluctuations in rice supply and production at the national level. After more than 25 years since its establishment, the ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve only stood at a measly amount of 87,000 metric tons, or equivalent to not even the half-day combined consumption volume of the 10 ASEAN countries. (1) Notably, the total commitment of ASEAN governments to the Emergency Rice Reserve did not actually go substantially past the initial volume of 50,000 tons originally earmarked in the AFSR, and the initial commitments of the member-states in 1979 were not increased, utilised, nor replenished. (2) Due to the insignificant volume of its rice reserve, and perhaps, because of the onerous request and delivery procedures, the ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve did not at all work to address any of the food emergencies that struck the region since the scheme was established, such as the serious rice shortage in Indonesia in 1997. (3)

The idea to improve the implementation of the ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve scheme was crystallised in a special workshop on Food Security Cooperation and Rice Reserve Management System in East Asia held in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand in April 2001, funded by the government of Japan. The workshop recommended that a study team be established to review the possibility of establishing a new rice reserve scheme in East Asia, beyond the original ASEAN coverage. The proposal was endorsed by the Senior Officials Meeting-ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (SOM-AMAF) "Plus-Three" that includes South Korea, China, and Japan. (4)

The study team, supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), came out with a proposal for a three-year pilot project of an East Asia rice reserve scheme, approved in October 2003. It was understood that this scheme--the EAERR--should be in line with the original set-up and scheme adopted by the ASEAN in 1979. (5)

The shift in the paradigm from 1979, when the concern of ASEAN in establishing an emergency rice reserve is largely on food security as a key to attaining political stability, to the agricultural trade liberalisation 25 years hence can be clearly gleaned from the mechanisms for the implementation of the EAERR. While largely maintaining the scheme established in the 1979 ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve, the breadth and coverage of the EAERR is essentially broader, covering emergency situations as well as normal times, and maintaining physical stocks rather than mere earmarked stocks. The East Asian scheme is also geared more towards intra- and inter-regional rice trade and developing the international competitiveness of the member-countries through technology transfer, regional cooperation, and private sector participation, over and above the food security objective. …

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