PHAMA Heads of Quarantine – a new regional forum for trade

phama-pic1An important new forum for addressing technical market access issues – the PHAMA Heads of Quarantine group – was launched in Fiji in mid-October. All Heads of Quarantine of the five PHAMA countries – Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu – attended the inaugural meeting along with key players from the private sector in each country, SPC representatives, and members of the PHAMA team. The establishment of the group, which has been actively promoted by PHAMA, is seen as a significant step forward for regional trade.

“A forum like this is long overdue” said Richard Holloway, PHAMA team leader. “The countries now have a mechanism for sitting together on a regular basis to address the various quarantine and other technical issues that are critical to successful trade, both within the region and beyond.”

 Simple, transparent procedures

The forum wasted no time in looking at some of those issues. Harmonisation of procedures and setting regional standards were identified as priorities, in a move towards transparent processes that are consistent with international standards. As a first step, the countries agreed to review and share their existing bilateral trade and quarantine agreements.

The challenges posed by shipping are well known, and were acknowledged by making transport a standing agenda item for future meetings. Also under discussion were the Australian Fumigation Accreditation Scheme and the Sea Container Hygiene Scheme, with consensus on a move towards developing similar standards within the region. The need to align country activities with Pacific Plant Protection Organisation efforts was also agreed.

 The future?

A presentation by PHAMA Market Access Specialist Rob Duthie introduced delegates to a promising new method for treating fruits and vegetables prior to shipping. Irradiation is being used increasingly in many countries, including Australia and New Zealand, to ‘clean’ both food and non-food items. According to Duthie, there is a lot of scientific evidence showing that this chemical-free method is safe, does not affect nutritional quality, and can even extend shelf life. Government and private sector delegates were equally excited at the possibilities this method may hold for the region, but the high costs of the equipment mean it will likely be some way in the future before the Pacific islands can begin irradiating export produce.

phama-pic2Bilateral meetings

The Heads of Quarantine also took the opportunity to hold bilateral talks in parallel with the main meeting. “Again, this has been happening much too infrequently” said Holloway. ”Face-to-face negotiations are by far the easiest way to address some of the more intractable market access issues.” And indeed, significant progress was made on some longstanding issues, while some new opportunities were also identified. Tonga and Fiji had productive discussions on the import of squash to Fiji for processing, and also talked about simplifying treatments for watermelons into Fiji, and ginger into Tonga.  Samoa investigated the possibility of exporting honey and cut flowers to Fiji.

“A huge success”

Private sector delegates were unanimous that the meeting represented a leap forward for trade in the region. “It was a very fruitful meeting” said Tolo Iosefa, who was representing the farmers of Samoa. “I was expecting it to be competitive, but instead we learned how we need to collaborate to be successful in reaching the markets.”

“It’s been a huge success,” added Minoru Nishu, Exporter Representative from Tonga. “We need more of this kind of dialogue.”

“We’re moving into a new phase, one based on cooperation” said Elvis Silvestrini, CEO of Fiji’s Biosecurity Authority and Chair of the new group. “We all want profitable and safe trade between Pacific Island countries, and also with our bigger trading partners. We need to work together to make that happen.”

The PHAMA Heads of Quarantine will meet annually or more frequently as required.

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