Pacific neighbours laud Tonga’s export breakthrough

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Friday, February 16 2018

Tonga has been congratulated by its neighbours for its success in establishing a pathway for squash exports to China.

At a regional coordinating meeting for the Australia and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program in late January, participants from the region were keen to know how Tonga was able to quickly establish a new supply chain for its horticulture exports and how it was able to attract demand for squash from China and Korea.

PHAMA’s National Coordinator in Tonga, Paula Mosa’ati, said their success in tapping into the Chinese market in 2016 was the result of the public-private partnership approach.

PHAMA’s National Coordinator in Tonga, Paula Mosa’ati, at the PHAMA Coordinating Committee Meeting in Nadi, Fiji.

“For our success to China, it was a partnership approach where exporters, the Government Ministries, Tonga’s government representatives and Pacific Trade and Invest’s offices in China, and PHAMA were all involved. The aim was to find new markets for Tongan produce and to be one of the first in the Pacific to trade with China. We knew to start small and build over time. Exports increased a lot in the second year and it’s looking promising for another increase this year” he said.

Tonga’s CEO for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests Dr Viliami Manu said Tonga had undergone an intensive exercise to comply with China’s export requirements before the first shipment of squash weighing 23 tonnes was successfully sent in December 2016.

“The Chinese had 3 visits; first to clarify the (supply) chain from farmers in the field and production itself, post-harvest processes and export. Another visit was to verify that the steps were all being done and they were satisfied. The final visit was to formalise the export protocol. The preparations and negotiations all had to be done formally and through senior levels including the Prime Minister. We’ve learnt that using these formal channels is the efficient approach for progressing issues with our Chinese counterparts,” said Manu.

He explained Tonga had previously gained access for squash to Korea based on an agreement between government ministries and quarantine departments but with no visits to Tonga. “Gaining access to China is a different story. PHAMA’s contribution to the visits greatly assisted progress,” he said.

After reductions in volumes and profitability for squash to Korea and Japan, Tonga needed to find another pathway for squash exports.

“New Zealand and other countries were getting more squash to these markets and squeezed us out, so we created another market. Our advantage is our squash grows earlier so we’re creating faster ways to get our commodity out and have an advantage over competitors. 90% of our squash (exports) went to Korea last year, and some to Japan and China but we’re looking to change that in the future,” Mosa’ati said.

Delivering an overview of PHAMA’s activities and progress in Tonga for 2017, he said Tonga’s Market Access Working Group (MAWG) was continuing to be a dynamic and effective way for the private sector and government to work together to grow exports for the benefit of the people of Tonga. The MAWG was initially a PHAMA initiative to bring government and private sector representatives together to discuss market access challenges and find solutions to the issues. The membership and scope is expanding in response to identified needs and the group is looking to become independently recognised as an incorporated society.

PHAMA will continue supporting the MAWG in 2018 via:

  • food safety accreditation for companies through the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system;
  • improved facilities for the processing and packing of fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables ;
  • improving the requirements for watermelon exports to New Zealand; and
  • maintaining and improving squash exports to China.

For further information, contact Paula Mosa’ati at p.mosaati@phama.biz or on +676 28128

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