Veggie Import Ban In PNG Well Meaning, Poorly Timed: Parkop

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

NCD Governor receives complaints from public, businesses

By Tony Palme Kip

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 21, 2016) – The vegetable import ban was poorly timed, has caused a shortage and pushed prices up in the National Capital District, says Governor Powes Parkop.

He said he had been receiving a lot of complaints from retailers, restaurants and the public.

The ban was a noble decision (to support local farmers) but the timing and execution of it was not thought out well, he told The National.

He said Agriculture and Livestock Minister Tommy Tomscoll should have formulated strategies to ensure local supplies were consistent before imposing the ban, echoing the sentiments of many who have voiced out their unhappiness over the situation.

"The minister could otherwise have used tariff as a means to protect and promote Papua New Guinean crops as suggested by Sumkar MP Ken Fairwheather.

"Or he could have used a quota system where you only purchase certain amount of imported vegetables after purchasing equal amount of local vegetable."

Parkop is the latest critic of Tomscoll’s decision to impose the ban on Aug 12 and then "varying" it on Nov 10 to allow for the import of bulb onions, capsicum and tomatoes from Queensland only.

[PIR editor’s note: On Jan. 21, 2016 The National reported that ‘The ban on the import of fresh vegetables demonstrates Agriculture and Livestock Minister Tommy Tomscoll’s complete "economic illiteracy", says Opposition leader Don Polye. ... He said Tomscoll had made an illiterate and uneducated approach when he imposed the ban in August last year, only to relax it three months later.’]

However, his decision to allow only one company to import the fresh produce has caused an uproar and suggestions of possible abuse.

The critics, which include the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission, Transparency International, and the Port Moresby and Lae chambers of commerce, are even more surprised that the importer – Gryph Holdings Ltd – was reportedly set up recently and has no experience.

Parkop said that previously, there would be vegetables on the shelves or foodwarmers at some shops and restaurants but this was no longer the case.

"There is no produce to supply or those producing are doing so in small quantities and at higher prices," he said.

"I had raised my concern on behalf of the city with the prime minister last year that we all wanted to promote local produce.

"But the mechanism must be well thought out before such decisions are made."

He said farmers in the country had the potential to meet the local market but the decision (to ban) came as a surprise.

"There was no awareness carried out to educate the farmers and the people of a possible ban and how they could prepare themselves to survive it. Everyone was caught by surprise."

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