30 November 2012 In the hectic ‘‘busyness'' leading up to the end of 2012, the Program could easily lose its ability to distinguish between activity and achievement. It is therefore appropriate to pull back, reflect on our achievements and ‘lessons learned', and identify what remains to be done.....
The outstanding achievement of PHAMA that just keeps on giving is the national governance structure known as the Tonga Market Access Working Group (TMAWG). The success of this group is testament to the concept of private/public partnership, the individuals involved, and a project design that dared to dream that such an arrangement might actually work. As noted in an earlier issue, the TMAWG has been officially endorsed by Cabinet and was recognized earlier in the year at the National Reserve Bank of Tonga's National Economic Dialogue as an example of Public Private Partnership at work, and one that other economic sectors should consider adopting.
Things have moved on, on both the policy and implementation front. The TMAWG now provides the base membership for the Agriculture Growth Committee (AGC) that will be oversighting the development of the World Bank-funded National Agriculture Sector Plan. This arrangement is a first for Tonga. Members of the TMAWG also represented Tonga at the PHAMA Heads of Quarantine (HoQ) forum pursuing regional initiatives and synergies, and also fronted as the Bilateral Team for quarantine technical discussions with Fiji and Samoa.
Watermelon shipments are building steadily due to the close working partnership between PHAMA technical experts and the Watermelon Export Pathway to New Zealand Action Plan Team (WENZAP). WENZAP is a sub-committee of the TMAWG and is tasked with improving and ensuring the ongoing viability of the watermelon export pathway. It is expected that this year's watermelon exports to NZ will reach around 200 tonnes, exceeding the quantity shipped last year.
Industry is also looking forward to taking a share of the highly lucrative New Zealand courgette import market, hopefully by the 2013 New Zealand winter. A market access submission for this new export crop was forwarded to NZ MPI on 21 August this year for their consideration.
At a national level, we are aware that the PHAMA Phase 1 review is imminent and welcome the opportunity to "wax lyrical" on our achievements to date, of which we are proud. An independent perspective by the review team will also be highly valuable for facilitating discussion around the challenges we face, providing input into possible improvements to the PHAMA model for Phase 2 so that momentum continues to build.
Export Development Grants (EDGs): Complementary to PHAMA’s technical market access work, the first of Tonga’s Export Development Grants was approved by the Working Group in September. The grant facilitated marketing activities for Sweet Yams (‘Ufilei) in New Zealand. It was most pleasing to see the first container of yams leaving Tonga on time and getting a positive response from the New Zealand distributor regarding product quality. The Exporter involved has advised that the next shipment is expected to depart Tonga in late November.
Heads of Quarantine meeting/Bilateral meetings (REGIONAL03
& 04): These meetings were held in Nadi from the 17th – 19th October and were unanimously heralded by all involved as an outstanding success! Industry reps really appreciated the opportunity to participate in the discussions, and were able to bring commercial experience and focus to the table. Tonga had successful outcomes with Fiji and Samoa, with squash and watermelon likely to benefit from new and enhanced market access into Fiji. Samoa is validating
the existing Bilateral Quarantine Agreement and has agreed to consider the removal of fumigation requirements for Tonga watermelon exports. Access for kumara (sweet potato) and various other root crops is also being explored. The Nadi discussions were followed up with visits to Tonga by quarantine delegations from Fiji to assess the squash export pathway (in October); and from Samoa to assess the watermelon export pathway (in November).
Improvements in the watermelon export pathway into New Zealand and the development of a systems approach (TONGA04):
The training courses and the export manuals and materials developed to support this export pathway, along with improved fumigation delivery, have resulted in a quantum leap in the capacity of both MAFFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries) and industry to manage the pathway. Despite the significant challenge of implementing all components of the export work plan, improvements are already apparent and are growing. This is reflected in the rising confidence of growers, exporters and distributers alike going into this year’s peak export months. A final internal audit will be conducted in early December. Progressing the systems approach initiative is expected to commence in early 2013.
New market access submissions for courgettes/zucchinis into New Zealand (TONGA05):
Growers and exporters alike have high hopes that New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries (NZ MPI) progresses Tonga’s recently submitted new market access request for courgettes with urgency, hopefully in time for trade to commence during the next winter season. There is some concern though that following its recent re-structure, MPI’s capacity to process new submissions may be a significant constraint on how fast this work proceeds.
Export processing infrastructure (TONGA08) & Market feasibility study – New Zealand (TONGA09):
The first major activity in the new year, with a start date already locked in for mid-January, recognises the need for additional rigour and analysis in the export prioritisation process. A highly experienced agricultural economist will be assessing the export potential for selected commodities to New Zealand (identified by the Working Group), providing the basis for possible new market access requests to NZ MPI.
While in Tonga, and with the assistance of an industry import specialist from NZ, he will also be assessing existing export processing infrastructure. The recommendations from this study will help guide improvements to this important facet of exporting.
Industry HACCP accreditation (TONGA10):
Full-scale implementation of this activity is currently awaiting the outcomes and experience gained from a similar activity that is being conducted by PHAMA in Vanuatu, using AsureQuality, a New Zealand service provider. A fortunate synergy for this project is the imminent certification of a Tongan National as a HACCP auditor, which is also being supported by PHAMA. Improved timelines and reduced costs to achieve HACCP certification will be much welcomed by Tongan businesses.
Packaging for export products (TONGA12):
This activity is being supervised by a sub-committee comprising the Tonga Trade and Investment Division of the Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labour, current and potential processed/semi-processed exporters, and the PHAMA Coordinator. Progress is well advanced with the design of retail packaging for the first commodity due to be completed on the 23rd November. Implementation is being coordinated by the Tonga Trade & Investment Division (MCTL) and the PHAMA Coordinator, in close cooperation with the Pacific Islands Trade & Invest Office in Auckland.
Review of quarantine issues impacting trade in handicrafts (REGIONAL05):
PHAMA is engaging with Langafonua Gallery and Handicraft Centre/NZAID to compile a local handicraft photo file with the aim of helping to address quarantine issues and promote trade in handicraft products. Further work to follow.
Australian Fumigation Accreditation Scheme (AFAS) training
(REGIONAL06): Thanks to PHAMA, Tonga now has two AFAScertified fumigation operators, who attended the first round of training in Fiji earlier in the year. Two additional MAFFF personnel will be attending the next round of operator training scheduled for late November in Fiji.
A key message from the last TMAWG meeting ….
The success of the PHAMA program in Tonga is due to the spirit of partnership fostered by the Working Group stakeholders: government being represented by MAFFF and MCTL, and industry by growers and exporters. The absence of a key member at the recent TMAWG Meeting held on the 1st November was noted and discussed. While the Working Group’s composition is such that it will continue to function in spite of the absence of a member, the Group’s ability to achieve successful outcomes in the most effective and efficient manner will undoubtedly be compromised without the full and routine support of all members.
New market access issues on the horizon
Irradiation as a biosecurity treatment was considered at both the recent PHAMA Heads of Quarantine forum and the TMAWG8 meeting held in November. In Tonga’s case it was subtitled “the silver bullet?” While there is significant interest in the possibility of using irradiation as an alternative to chemical treatments, many major issues, not least being its substantial AUD 20m price tag, will need to be carefully considered. It was also noted that Tonga has requested an irradiation facility as part of the Pacer Plus negotiations with Australia. These discussions were a timely reminder of the increased acceptance of irradiated fruit by consumers and its increased use as a quarantine treatment globally, which in part is due to the recent withdrawal of some longstanding chemical treatments.
Next scheduled MAWG meeting
Issued by the: PHARMA Tonga, Nuku'alofa, 2012.