MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Southeast Asian countries should review and strengthen regulations to shield their people from potentially harmful products that now move easily across borders in the era of free trade, health officials said Thursday.
Health ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed that the industrial chemical melamine, which was found in Chinese dairy products and sparked a global scare, "should not be added deliberately in food, even at the minutest amount," Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
Top health officials from China, Japan and South Korea -- ASEAN's dialogue partners -- will join the two-day meeting Friday.
Duque told The Associated Press the ministers strongly condemned "unscrupulous business practice and cover-up" in the scandal surrounding melamine-laced milk, and agreed that ASEAN members should strengthen mechanisms for consultation and exchange of information to prevent health hazards.
Duque said separately in a speech that the entry of melamine-contaminated products into local markets was a "trade-off of globalization -- that is a globalization without effective and coordinated global governance."
A draft of a joint statement to be issued Friday also expressed the ministers' concerns over the spread of infectious diseases such as AIDS and bird flu that "continue to threaten the lives of people in the region ... with socio-economic consequences that pose a formidable challenge to ASEAN community-building."
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 AP.
China has pledged to ban milk and food products that do not meet the country's new standards for permissible levels of melamine.
Wang Xuening, a Chinese Health Ministry official, said in Beijing that small amounts of melamine can leech from the environment and packaging into milk and other foods, but that deliberate tainting was explicitly forbidden.
Chinese dairy suppliers have been accused of adding melamine -- used in plastics, paint and adhesives -- to watered-down milk to make the product appear richer in protein and fool quality control tests.
Its food exports have suffered since milk and dairy products containing melamine were linked to the deaths of four babies and the sickening of about 54,000 others in China. More than 30 countries, including those in Southeast Asia, have banned, recalled or found contamination in Chinese dairy products.