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PNG-Fiji trade impasse need close dialogues: PNG on politics while Fiji looks at standards

Commentary by PETER KINJAP

PNG’s Trade, Commerce and Industry Minister Richard Maru has accused Fiji for not keeping the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) free trade agreement between the two countries. Mr. Maru said Fiji has been refusing to allow imports such as Ox & Palm, Trukai Rice and other PNG products into Fiji for over a decade.
 “We have allowed Fiji to have a trade surplus with PNG for a long time and trade volumes are increasing,” he added.
However, he said there have been many occasions for Fiji to cooperate and provide satisfactory explanation but Fiji has not done so, compelling PNG to take action.
Following Minister Maru’s talks with PNG’s Agriculture Minister, Tommy Tomscoll, PNG will not allow the entry of Fiji poultry products into PNG.
Maru said if countries like Australia and Singapore with higher biosecurity measures can allow the entry of PNG’s tinned product Ox & Palm, Minister Maru cannot see why Fiji has an issue with it.
PNG has given Fiji 14 days to respond favourably, before resorting to further action.
Meanwhile, Fijian Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said trade in certain goods between Fiji and PNG has temporarily ceased.
“If we are serious about promoting trade between Pacific island countries, then we need competent agencies to look at issues when they arise and this should not be done in a tit-for-tat manner,” he said.

“At the moment, we have a bit of an issue with PNG regarding the export of our chicken and, they (PNG), regarding the export of their corned beef to us.”

While Sayed-Khaiyum didn't elaborate on the issues that led to the trade impasse, he said Fiji had never engaged in a retaliatory manner when such issues arose with other countries.

“For example, when New Zealand had issues with some of the vegetable exports from Fiji, we did not turn around and place a ban on their potato exports into the country,” he said.
He said the temporary ban is based on trade standards, not politics. “I think in order to have a free flow of goods and services, it should not be seen from a retaliatory perspective. It needs to be based on standards. So if you have various quarantine standards, the exporting countries must meet those standards.

“Similarly, if you are importing, you need to be able to know standards that you have placed on them are being met, so there's free flow of goods and services within the region.”
Questions sent to the PNG government regarding the trade impasse remain unanswered.

“With respect to the PNG’s corned beef, our biosecurity authority sent recommendations to PNG and they were supposed to follow those recommendations,” Fiji Minister for Industry and Trade Faiyaz Koya said. “We have been declining the importation of that particular product of corned beef to Fiji,” he said.
While PNG’s Maru said his ministry has send a letter to his Fiji counterparts to uplift the temporary ban on Ox & Palm and other PNG goods, Fiji’s Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji has send a set of recommendations to PNG by its Biosecurity Authority for standard checks. Sayed-Khaiyum denied any political impasse saying it’s all about standard requirements.    
Both countries seem to be waiting for each other to respond on each of their subjects of communication. PNG issued a 14-day ultimatum with a threat to ban Fiji’s dairy products into PNG if the temporary ban is not uplifted.
Who is saying the truth and who is to listen to who?
On a mutual basis, both countries need a closer dialogue to see where they are and what need to be done on a win-win basis. It is unhealthy to pull strings at this stage; rather it requires a round-table discussion and to amicably reach what need to be done next. The fear is that it might have spread-over ramifications on the MSG free trade agreements and that can also affect other Melanesian Spearhead brothers.

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