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By Jason Brown

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (November 11 2000 - Cook Islands News)---Government plans to allow an Australian company to set up a pearl farm on Suwarrow Atoll may face it's toughest opposition yet -- local pearl farmers.

"Why don’t they come and buy our pearls?" asked Raina Piniata, one of about 30 people who came to this week's Save Our Suwarrow meeting at the USP Center in Takamoa.

Companies like Adelaide’s Rock Lobster Co. could cause problems for local farmers.

"They’ve got millions to push us out," Raina warned.

He was supported in his comments by fellow farmer Peter William. "I’m against pearl farming for sure - everyone knows why."

After the meeting on Tuesday night, opposition spokesman on Marine Resources, Tupou Faireka, called Cook Islands News to express his opposition to Suwarrow development.

"I’m in support of leaving Suwarrow alone," said Faireka.

As well as environmental reasons, a foreign company would be unwelcome competition.

"Right now the people on Manihiki and Penrhyn are struggling to sell their pearls and government is bringing in people to compete with local farmers.

And it’s not just the Cook Islands. Faireka said he was on the way to London for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting when he met up with people from the Tahiti Pearl Federation on the plane.

"Tahiti is also struggling to sell their pearls - and we’re going to bring in more farmers that will wop our small farmers in Manihiki and Penrhyn."

Faireka said he would raise the issue with the Cook Islands Party to see if the opposition would agree with his stance.

He also wants to call community meetings on planned developments.


Still at Tuesday night’s meeting, William urged the meeting to come up with solutions, not just problems.

"Government is trying to earn some money; that’s why they want to develop," he said.

If government feels foreign farmers should be encouraged, both William and Peniata asked why greater use is not made of Penrhyn.

"It’s all very well with what we can do with Suwarrow but we’re going to have to force government to leave that idea aside and focus on Penrhyn.

While not mentioning recent arguments between Penrhyn locals and a partly foreign owned company, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) representative Jacqui Evans raised the point: Would the people of Penrhyn welcome pearl farming?

"I don’t know," said William, answering with a question of his own: "Have they been asked?"

Those and other questions are sure to be raised in coming weeks.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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