AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND CALLED TRADE ‘HYPOCRITES’

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Samoa exporter says they ban all viable products

By Alan Ah Mu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 28, 2009) – Australia bans bananas, breadfruit and ‘ava from Samoa for no scientifically proven reason.

New Zealand fumigates bananas from Samoa for a bug that scientists say dies in New Zealand.

Those are the views of frustrated local business people who’ve tried exporting agricultural products to those countries.

"They talk about trade – it’s a lot of bull…," said one of them, Eddie Wilson.

"They’re bloody, bloody … hypocrites," Mr Wilson said.

"There’s no genuine interest to trade."

The businessman, who is Pacific Co-Chairman of International Kava Executive Council, said the only viable exports from Samoa are agricultural produce but Australia and New Zealand "ban virtually everything."

"Especially Australia."

All support Papali’i Grant Percival, president of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters in saying that Australia and New Zealand unfairly hinder agricultural products from here.

The show of frustration emerges as the region edges closer to free trade through finalising the PACER-Plus agreement.

Women In Business are trying to export organic misiluki (lady’s fingers) bananas to New Zealand.

Agriculture Stores Corporation tried the same thing in 1995 but found they couldn’t wash a milibug from the bananas because of its microscopic size.

Armed with powerful microscopes, quarantine in New Zealand could see the bugs. The fumigation that follows ruins the bananas, then head of Agriculture Stores, Papali’i Panoa Tavita Moala, said.

Another private former exporter of misiluki said the milibug concerned was found by entomologists to be harmless in New Zealand.

"It won’t harm any of their fauna," the scientists told them.

Quarantine in New Zealand wouldn’t reply to them on that issue, said the former exporter.

"We kept saying to them, you want us to export and you hinder us."

"Very stubborn and very unfair," said the former exporter of New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Mr Wilson said bananas and breadfruit from here are banned in Australia with no scientific explanation given.

"It’s because they grow them in Queensland," he said.

Papali’i Grant Percival said the banana ban was imposed because our bananas contain a bug – the same one already found in Queensland.

AVA

Papali’i accused Australia of inventing an excuse to justify putting a tax on ‘ava exports which made it uneconomical.

The Australians said their Aborigines were drinking too much ‘ava, he said.

A study by the University of Queensland released this May found ‘ava does not harm kidneys, said Mr Wilson.

"But they’re silent about it," he said.

Asked if the study is too recent for the Australian authorities to be aware of it, Mr Wilson said, "They know about it, it’s been published."

Amidst these trade restrictions on agricultural products from here, fruits and vegetables from Australia and New Zealand are air freighted into Samoa, he said. In a letter to this newspaper, Australian High Commissioner, Matt Anderson, says his Government knows current restrictions on ‘ava imports is "an important issue for some Forum Island Countries.

"Equally, there are some important domestic considerations to be taken into consideration in relation to kava abuse within some indigenous communities in the Northern Territory that the Australia Government is trying to address," Mr Anderson says.

"The suggestion, however, that Australia is not genuine in its desire to open its markets to Pacific Island Countries is without foundation," he says.

"Australia already provides significant market access opportunities to Forum Island Countries under the SPARTECA agreement."

SPARTECA

There is market access to Australia under SPARTECA, but they are for agricultural, value added products, said Mr Wilson.

"We’re not competitive in that area," he said.

Australia recognises this and wants, says Mr Anderson in his letter, island countries through "effective capacity building" to be competitive and productive enough to take advantage of market openings in Australia and globally.

With that goal in mind, their Minister of Trade, Simon Crean, has announced $A15.5 million over four years for the Pacific Market Access Programme, he says.

"This programme will help Forum Island Countries meet the customs and import quarantine requirements of key trading partners, including Australia," he says.

Mr Wilson, however, like Papali’i, says funds given by Australia to build up the capacity to trade end up being controlled by politicians and administrators.

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