Business sector seeks adoption of global standards in PH supply chain

The business sector is pressing for the adoption and recognition of global standards in the supply chain to promote product safety and traceability, effectively address pandemic-related risks and challenges and effect a smooth transition to the digital era.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT), in his opening remarks at the recent virtual GS1 National Conference, called on the government to “seriously consider globally accepted standards to develop not only trust in cross-border and domestic trade but also ensure consumer safety and protection.”

Roberto C. Amores, president of the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. and PHILEXPORT trustee for food sector, said in his presentation that compliance with global standards is particularly crucial in agriculture and food production.

“The COVID-19 pandemic halted further the growth and development which we would like to see in the food and agriculture sector,” he said. “For us to reach full throttle in agriculture, one very significant component is food and agriculture safety that can be met consistently through standards and traceability. Without any form of standard or criteria in the food supply chain, food security and self-sufficiency may not come to fruition for us.”

He further called on producers, consumers, policymakers and the government to come together to develop and adopt global standards that will reduce the risk of contamination that poses a real threat to the country’s overall productivity.

Heidi Ho, principal consultant at GS1 Hong Kong, said that food safety is a primary concern for both industry stakeholders and health-conscious consumers in Hong Kong because 95% of food consumed there relies on food imports and because Hong Kong is a key gateway to the Chinese market.

She shared how a strong food safety mindset was nurtured in Hong Kong, largely through strong collaboration among the government, the industry and the consumer, including on the adoption of the GS1 standards.

Jesus Varela, chairman of GS1 Philippines, explained that GS1 standards are “the global language of business” for over a million companies doing business in more than 150 countries.

The GS1 standards were developed by GS1, a not-for-profit organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communication. GS1 standards make inventory management efficient, help avoid wastages and losses, promote better trading partner relationships, enhance brands, eliminate identity theft and promote consumer safety and protection. The best known of these standards is the barcode, a symbol printed on products that can be scanned electronically.

“In this new digital age where unpredictability is the new normal, total supply chain visibility will be indispensable in tracking specific data related to orders and shipment to allow quick response should an adverse situation arise,” Varela said.

Jim Leandro Cano, director for agritech at IT company 8Layer Technologies, said traceability cannot be done by a single individual but relies on multi-stakeholder partnerships to move forward.

He enumerated in his talk the many benefits of traceability in Philippine agriculture. These include ensuring food safety among consumers, improving the visibility of loss points and inefficiency in the supply chain, improving data collection, and establishing market transparency.

Traceability is also vital for farmers unable to get loans, as it will allow them access to new financial resources by enabling them to build records and become bankable, he said.

Traceability can also help create new value for producers, track environmental, economic, health and social metrics, and allow stakeholders to see the “true cost of food,” he further said.

For her part, Anna Marie Anastacio, entrepreneur and past president of the Chamber of Cosmetic Industry of the Philippines, noted the weak post-market surveillance system in Philippine digital space, which prevents the traceability of banned ingredients and the crackdown on unregistered, counterfeit or illegal cosmetic products sold online.

Moreover, this monitoring weakness not only undermines consumer safety, it also leads to unfair trade practices to the detriment of legitimate entrepreneurs, she said.

“If we have one consolidated digital system among our government agencies, then all of those processes will be easier, using for instance the GTIN.”

The GTIN or Global Trade Identification Number is an identifier for trade items that was developed by GS1. Such identifiers are used to look up product information in a database which may belong to a retailer, manufacturer, collector, researcher, or other entity.

“Let’s stop playing catch-up with the rest of the world and aim toward being forefront runners of setting the bar in quality standards in the cosmetic global industry,” said Anastacio.

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