2004 Nov Issue
Cover Story
Five win 'Best of the Best' awards from among 500 top retailers in Asia-Pacific
Other Stories
imm cologne 2005 to present latest home trends
Should FARA establish a permanent secretariat
Retail Tsunami: Is this the next wave
Hong Kong presents region's first Asian licensing awards


Send Feedback     Print Article

Should FARA establish a permanent secretariat

At the Heads of Delegation (HoD) meeting of the 17 countries that make up the Federation of Asian Retailers Associations (FARA), the executive director of the federation's 12th Asian Retailers Convention & Exhibition Organising Committee, Zhang Shuping, asked delegates if FARA should establish a permanent secretariat.

The question by Zhang, who is also vice-president of China General Chamber of Commerce, sparked off a lively exchange of views in the course of the discussion on The Development and Reform of FARA.

President of New Zealand Retailers Association Bruce Gregory declared: “New Zealand supports the establishment of a permanent secretariat.

“We see the function of the permanent secretariat being to coordinate research, information transfer between countries and sectors, and possible negotiation with infrastructural organisations such as banks and credit-card owners, etc, with regard to fees being charged to retailers.

We see the secretariat being located centrally within the region, like in Malaysia.

“We also see it being funded by all members of the federation — based on a levy which could be based on each country's total retail turnover.”

Gregory added: “Perhaps, 5% of the revenues from the biennial Asian Retailers Convention & Exhibition (ARCE) should go towards the funding and running of the secretariat.”

He, however, said that this 5% contribution should start from the 2007 ARCE in Japan.

Gregory recommended that the permanent secretariat should be in a city where the cost of staffing and accommodation would not be too high.

On the usefulness of a permanent secretariat, he emphasised: “We believe that FARA has real muscle in representing the retail industry within the Asia-Pacific region, both politically and economically.

“We suggest the way forward after this meeting is to have a separate committee set up to investigate the scope, to make recommendations on the structure and founding of a permanent secretariat, and to report back by the end of March 2005 to all members.”

Gregory said that the final decision could be taken at the next HoD meeting in Beijing, China, in September 2005.

Supporting the idea of a permanent secretariat, Ramli Idris, president of Malaysia Retailers Association, said: “Just to add a bit to Bruce's [comments] … at the moment, the function of the [ad hoc] FARA secretariat is basically to organise the ARCE. I think this is the right time to have a permanent secretariat that can play a more active role in matters concerning the retail industry in Asia.

“However, as it is not easy to establish a permanent secretariat, I would propose that the permanent secretariat be started on a small scale, with only one or two main functions.

“Where is it going to be located? I agree with Bruce that it has to be a place where it is central and, at the same time, the cost of operation is lower than in the more highly-developed countries.”

Japan, while acknowledging the need for FARA to face up to the issue of a permanent secretariat, also cautioned that the permanent secretariat “should start on a small scale, and expand and enrich the activities as we go along”.

Philippine representative Samie Lim said: “We are entering a new era. The holding of ARCE has gone through the first cycle and, if I remember rightly, the [main] objective laid out was, first, to make friends with each other.

“We have come to know each other and have become friends. I think, the second round now, perhaps, we can try to see how we can really promote cooperation, learn about innovations and exchange programmes.

“We are now in the second stage where there should be in-depth interaction between member countries; therefore, there is a need for a coordinating body.”

Lim said that in line with the spirit of the theme chosen by China for the 12th ARCE in Beijing next September, FARA members should commission “the great minds of Asia” to do research so that they could share knowledge and understand where they are at today.

“I think meeting every two years is really not enough for us to learn. I don't know if I will be around for the third stage of FARA; probably not. I would like to see that we leave something in the second round so that Asia, as a unit [in acquiring and sharing know-how], could really be in the forefront of retailing.”

Agreeing with Lim, the publisher and editor of Retail Asia , Andrew Yeo, said: “Mr Chairman, I am just an observer tracking FARA since the Bangkok meeting in 1991 and from outside looking in, two years is too far apart.

“I believe some new members are already asking ‘other than the ARCE conference every two years, what other benefits are there'? I think it is about time that FARA set up a permanent secretariat, not to teach the ARCE host country what to do but to concentrate on research and development, to carry out surveys and so on.”

Yeo said that a FARA permanent secretariat could pull together consumer surveys, loss-prevention studies, innovative visual-merchandising techniques and other best practices in retailing — and disseminate the data and information to all FARA members.

The permanent secretariat, he added, could also conduct or commission studies on issues and government policies impacting the Asian retail industry, thus providing real data for FARA members to review their own operations and/or lobby their government for better support or policy changes.

Yeo noted that many Asian retailers attend the NRF (National Retailers Federation) convention in New York, USA, year after year to get the latest report on shrinkage. Although the shrinkage report covers mainly US companies, it has become a useful standard for some retailers in Asia to measure the shrinkage levels in their various retail operations.

“Now, if the permanent secretariat can launch such a study in Asia, it will be a very useful benchmark for everybody,” said Yeo.

The publisher of Retail Asia further observed: “With 17 member countries comprising half the world population, FARA now has the clout to get sponsors to conduct surveys and even negotiate with organisations like Visa or MasterCard for better deals.”

Chinese Taipei representative Chin Chung suggested that a working group be formed and urged the meeting not to decide at once whether FARA should set up a permanent secretariat.

She said: “This working group should work out a detailed programme that everybody can support, especially where there is a fee from each member.

“It is very important right now to establish a working group. Later on, we will make our decision, based on more detailed proposals.”

Mongolia's S Demberel said: “We are new to FARA, but I would like to give full support to the establishment of a permanent secretariat.

“I, too, believe that a permanent secretariat might serve us better in terms of networking among members, in terms of sharing experiences, which is crucial, especially to newcomers.”

Demberel also said that in order to reduce the cost burden, it might be better if each country could be assigned a specific secretariat function — for example, Japan could lead the retail IT sector while Mongolia look into retail-trade facilitation to bring the voice of FARA to the World Trade Organisation.

Hong Kong Retail Management Association's chairman, Yu Pang Chun, also voiced his support. He said: “I think the proper time has come for us to set up a permanent secretariat.

“However, it is very important to know the objectives and mission. As the Philippines mentioned, we established clearly the objective for the first round [of FARA activities]. What are our objectives for the second round … and onwards?”

Yu highlighted that the permanent secretariat's mission would have to take in the strategic role of FARA in the 21st century. “I think it's better to form, as mentioned by Chinese Taipei, a small working group to establish what the work and the terms of reference are for the permanent secretariat; and then we can roughly work out the cost,” he said, adding that member countries interested in hosting the permanent secretariat could then present a budget to FARA for consideration.

Lim from the Philippines responded: “May I suggest that there be a separate meeting where we discuss the proposals and concerns of the secretariat. I'm volunteering the Philippines to host a meeting for this particular activity — we will pay all [delegates'] hotel and other charges for the two or three days in the Philippines.

“We will also get a top consultant from the Asian management sector to help us facilitate working out all the objectives, facilities needed and so on.”

There is a difference between ARCE and FARA, Lim pointed out. He said: “ARCE, the retail convention and exhibition, would continue to operate independently because the host country has to have full control in organising such a world-class event and nobody should come and tell it how to run it.

“So, we will not interfere with China, and we will not interfere with Japan when it hosts the 2007 ARCE. But we are asking what other activities can FARA do for members during the 24 months between each ARCE?”

Chairman Zhang thanked Lim for his offer.

Gregory of New Zealand then pressed for a timeline. He said: “It is fine to set up a working group … but if there is no definite timeline, we will be sitting here in another 12 months' or two years' time discussing exactly the same issues.”

In summing up the discussion, Zhang said: “I think, basically, we agree to set up the permanent secretariat. But in terms of cost, time and human resources, we had best postpone the very important decision to the next ARCE.

“As Lim mentioned, for the first cycle, we know each other and contact each other. Maybe, from the next cycle, when Japan is the host, we decide whether to set up our permanent secretariat … and other professional committees and the website.

“We can discuss these issues at the next HoD meeting in September 2005.”

Ambika Sharma of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry concurred but advised: “I think it's important that we produce a paper on the proposals and concerns, objectives, financial structure, etc, so that when discussion takes place, there will be clear statements on why FARA should have a permanent secretariat, what the advantages are, what its role is, and how we will finance the secretariat.

“That would be very useful so that members can discuss [among themselves], think about it and then come to FARA prepared for it.”

Zhang agreed: “We will do the preparation for the discussion for the next HoD meeting in Beijing next year.”

So, will FARA have a permanent secretariat after more than two decades of existence? Or will the talk go on and on … and on.

Going by the views expressed, there is hope yet that a permanent secretariat will see the light of day in the not too distant future. And when that day comes, it will mark a new beginning for the world's largest retail federation.

back to top

Send Feedback     Print Article