Navigating viable export pathways for Tonga’s agricultural trade
Tonga’s agricultural trade of fresh produce to overseas markets is often impacted by the availability and affordability of shipping, a constraint further exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic and recent crises.
Finding cost effective solutions and actions to address shipping constraints will help maintain Tonga’s agricultural trade with key markets such as Australia and New Zealand and help ‘navigate’ new viable export pathways.
Stakeholders from Tonga’s agriculture sector, Government, shipping providers and development partners convened on Wednesday 12 October 2022 at the Tonga Shipping Workshop in Nuku’alofa to collectively address the shipping issues faced by the agricultural export sector.
The workshop was organised by the Tonga Market Access Working Group (Tonga MAWG), in collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand supported Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus (PHAMA Plus) Program.
“The first step is sharing and understanding the knowledge gaps on shipping and its related issues that severely affects the exports of agricultural commodities from Tonga to New Zealand and Australia,” Tonga MAWG Chairperson Pousima Afeaki said.
“This workshop provided a platform to collectively obtain feedback, advice and support from the key stakeholders on the action items, activities and proposed interventions to address the issues of irregular shipping intervals from Tonga to NZ and support the re-establishment of the port-to-port shipping connections from Tonga to the Australian East Coast.”
As of December 2021, there were no longer direct (port to port) connections from Nuku’alofa to the major Australian East Coast ports (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) and a schedule conducive to achieving scale for New Zealand bound watermelon volumes from Tonga remained elusive.
“Shipping is a vital component of Tonga’s trade. This workshop is an opportunity for key stakeholders and industry representatives to share experiences and ideas solutions for this problem that has long plagued Tonga. Only by working as a collective can we progress and overcome this obstacle,” Ministry of Trade and Economic Development Chief Executive Officer Mrs Distaquaine Tuihalamaka said.
In December 2021, the Tonga MAWG with the support of PHAMA Plus commissioned a study to investigate possible solutions to address these constraints to Tonga’s agricultural trade and provided recommendations on actions to be taken by industry, government, shipping providers and development partners.
“It is crucial that the stakeholders in the shipping industry and the agricultural trade and exporting sector are engaged to consider the recommendations from the study and effectively implement them,” PHAMA Plus Country Manager Tevita Lautaha said.
“The next step is to agree on possible interventions to take to address the shipping issues faced by the agricultural export sector and the development and formalizing of a workable agreement between all stakeholders and Government to drive a solution forward.”
An outcome report will be produced after the workshop that should provide a sound action plan and way forward.
PHAMA Plus has been working in Tonga since 2011 to maintain and improve existing market access, and create new markets by developing the capacity of public and private sectors to meet export market requirements.
The Program entered a new phase in July 2022 and will run until June 2026 to support farming households in Tonga through public private partnerships and increase the quantity and quality of Tonga’s agricultural, horticultural and cultural exports.