Southeast Asian nations look at free trade's impact on health amid tainted milk scare

(Associated Press Philippines)



Southeast Asian countries should strengthen their regulations to shield people from potentially harmful food and agricultural products that move easily across borders in the era of free trade, health officials said Thursday.

The scandal over tainted Chinese milk and dairy products was expected to be raised in a two-day meeting of health ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila, Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

Duque told The Associated Press the ministers strongly condemned "unscrupulous business practice and cover-up" in the scandals surrounding melamine-laced milk, and agreed that ASEAN members should strengthen mechanisms for consultation and exchange of information to prevent health hazards.

"Presently, our governments are confronted with the fear engendered by melamine milk products finding their way into our local markets," Duque said separately in a speech. "Such is the trade-off of globalization that is, a globalization without effective and coordinated global governance."

The ministers plan to ask senior diplomats to study the impact of international trade accords, including those ASEAN has forged with China, Japan and South Korea, on health and national health policies, according to the draft statement, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press.

China has pledged to ban milk and food products that do not meet the country's new standards for permissible levels of melamine.

Its food exports have suffered since milk and dairy products laced with melamine were linked to the deaths of four Chinese babies and the sickening of more than 54,000 others. More than 30 countries, including those in Southeast Asia, have banned, recalled or found contamination in dairy products from China.

Meanwhile, Singapore officials found melamine traces in three more Chinese-made food products, including milk powder and Cadbury-brand candies, according to Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Singapore has banned Chinese-made milk or food with milk as an ingredient since Sept. 19. 10-09-08



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