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Plant used for lei making in Hawai‘i

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 21, 2011) – Prime Minister Henry Puna has pledged to do what he can to bolster the Cook Islands declining maire industry.

During his recent trip to Oahu, Puna and chief executive Edwin Pittman met with Dave and Maile Thompson of Mea Pacific Traders, the Hawaii-based agents for Cook Islands maire.

For years Mea Pacific Traders has publicised in Cook Islands media its concerns about the steep decline in maire production.

The demand for Cook Islands-brand maire is huge in Hawaii because of its superior quality and reputation for being full, fresh and fragrant. However, on account of dwindling import numbers Mea Pacific Traders cannot meet it.

[PIR editor’s notes: The green stems and leaves of ‘Maire’ (Alyxia olivaeformis) or maile in Hawaii, are popularly used for lei.]

Dave Thompson has been dealing with Cook Islands maire for 28 years and in the past seven has felt a sharp drop in imports.

Last year, Mauke, Mangaia and Mitiaro exported 40% of what Mauke alone exported in 1994. Paired with inconsistency in quality, the unreliable production numbers have caused Cook Islands ei to lose market share in Hawaii.

Mea Pacific Traders has been vocal about the issues it faces, but for years has felt that no one is listening.

After meeting with Puna, the agents are hopeful of a brighter future.

The PM seemed to sincerely understand the desperate state of the industry and I think will do what he can to help. He also agreed to look into alleviating some of the fees that we have recently incurred by the Airport Authority, Maile Thompson said.

Thankfully, he had some great insight for us about labour on the outer islands, the amount of government involvement that PM Puna thinks is appropriate.

He (Puna) has even been so proactive as to have gotten in contact with the minister of agriculture (Nandi Glassie) already. The response has been positive and we are waiting to hear on some decisions that will help alleviate labour issues on the outer-islands.

We appreciate that Edwin and PM Puna realise that there is already and proven export industry sitting on the outer islands and all the people have to do is get it, as Edwin (Pittman) said in regards to producing maire.

The Thompson family, with support from Cook Islands students at Brigham Young University, hosted about 50 Cook Islanders at their Waimanalo home last weekend, in honour of the prime ministers visit.

Puna and Pittman were escorted by five secret service agents and two members of the Honolulu Police Department as required by APEC security.

The prime minister spoke to the Hawaii-based Cook Islands community about the need for Cook Islanders to come home, and come home often. Those present said he was eloquent, articulate and cordial.

The secret service agents and Honolulu policemen also called the function the most fun they’d had on assignment.

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