MIXED REACTIONS TO LATEST FRENCH POLYNESIA PEARL AUCTION

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PAPE‘ETE, French Polynesia (June 17, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Tahiti's "United Pearl Producers" (UPP) second international auction of black pearls last week has triggered mixed reactions from local producers.

The daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti reports that in spite of the "optimistic remarks" from the organizers, both syndicates, GIE Tahiti Pearl Producers and GIE Poe Rava Nui, say sales remained low.

Overall sales to international buyers (mainly from Japan, Hong King and Europe) were about 140,000 pearls, for a total turnover of some 537 million French Pacific Francs (close to US$ 4 million).

Some 161 sets of pearls were sold during the UPP auction at an average price of 2,500 CFP per gram, RFO reports. But the producers were expecting to fetch at least 3,000 CFP per gram.

Officials said there were unsold items, but they were of poor quality.

"So this encourages producers to focus on quality," auction President Franck Tehaamatai said.

French Polynesia's black pearl production has been suffering a setback since earlier this year, and some expected international clients have recently snubbed the sales.

This prompted French Polynesia's President Gaston Flosse, in March, to take over the pearl industry portfolio and place it under his direct responsibility.

As a result of the take-over, pearl producers in French Polynesia are now engaged in an all-out war against poor quality and price dumping, which was believed to have caused the recent sales slump.

The upgrading requires a minimum mother-of-pearl thickness of 0.6 millimeters around a pearl's nucleus.

Next year, this minimum will be 0.8 millimeters, the Tahitipresse reports.

"The final objective is to reach 6,000 CFP per gram," Tehaamatai said.

The best buyers during last week's sale were from Hong Kong (with a total purchase of some 181 million CFP), Japan (173 million CFP), and locals (135 million CFP).

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