A new era for Pacific trade

By ANNE MOORHEAD

Dr Viliame Kami (third from left), Tonga’s Head of Quarantine, together with senior quarantine staff from Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and members of the PHAMA team in Fiji last week.

A meeting held in Fiji on 17–18 October may herald a new era for agricultural trade across the Pacific. The meeting brought together the Heads of Quarantine of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and established a new forum for collaboration on technical issues currently limiting trade.

“We’re moving into a new phase, one based on cooperation” said Elvis Silvestrini, Fiji’s Head of Quarantine and inaugural Chair of the new group. “We all want profitable and safe trade between Pacific Island countries, and also with our bigger trading partners. We need to work together to make that happen.”

The meeting also included key players from the private sector in each country, who brought a critical commercial view to the discussions, as well as expert trade advisors from Australia and New Zealand. The meeting was organised by PHAMA – the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access program – an AusAID-funded program managed by URS–Kalang that provides practical assistance to support regional trade.

“There are a number of key issues that come up again and again” said Rob Duthie, Market Access Specialist with PHAMA. “We now have a forum for addressing these together and coming up with mutually acceptable solutions.”

The forum immediately got down to business, and agreed that harmonisation of procedures and setting regional standards are priorities. As a first step, the countries agreed to review and share their existing bilateral trade and quarantine agreements. “We’re aiming for transparent agreements based on sound and standardised procedures, for example for dealing with pests” said Silvestrini. “It’s about building trust around biosafety issues, so that we can trade with confidence in the region and beyond.”

Private sector delegates were unanimous that the meeting represented a leap forward for trade in the region. “It’s been a huge success,” said Minoru Nishu, Exporter Representative from Tonga. “We need more of this kind of dialogue.”

As a result of bilateral meetings held in parallel, Tonga may soon have policy in place for the export of squash to Fiji for processing, and watermelons may follow in the not-too-distant future.