Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji are four independent Pacific Island countries that comprise the inter-Governmental Melanesian Spearhead Group. (FLNKS or Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, a group of pro-independent parties in the French Territory of New Caledonia holds an observer status to the trade agreement.)
Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) was formed in 1986 with a focus on promoting economic growth among Melanesian countries. It’s Secretariat is headquartered in Port Vila, Vanuatu. MSG member countries form the bulk of the Pacific Island population are larger in size and richer in natural resources than Polynesian island nations.
The MSG members are signatories to the Melanesian Spearhead Group Trade Agreement, a sub-regional preferential trade agreement established to foster and accelerate economic development through trade relations between member nations.
The agreement, recognised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has undergone a major review leading to a Melanesian Free Trade Agreement ready to be signed by members before the end of this year. While individual member countries have been engaged in exports outside of the grouping, the MSG is now focusing on boosting trade internationally as a group.
Tendai Chigwada, the MSG Secretariat’s Port Vila-based Trade Research Analyst is visiting the Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) Auckland offices this week to identify programmes and engagements that could promote MSG export products to New Zealand and other similar international markets.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Ms Chigwada joined the MSG Secretariat as a Trade Research Analyst in January 2015 on a two-year contract through the Pacific Integrated Technical Assistance Project (PITAP) funded by 10th European Development Fund (EDF). “I undertake and analyse desk and field research on issues that provide technical assistance intended to grow MSG trade and investment,” Ms Chigwada told Pacific Periscope.
Explaining her mission to New Zealand Ms Chigwada said, “I am here to have a better appreciation of PT&I’s networks in New Zealand and learn from their best practice of promoting Pacific trade and investment.”
Ms Chigwada hopes to gather general information and market tips for specific MSG products based on New Zealand market requirements and also information on what may be some active New Zealand buyers’ interests for specific supplies from recognised brands from the MSG countries.
“My mission intends to identify the specific Melanesian products that are of interest to New Zealand customers. MSG countries have through a study of selected MSG export products identified the products that are exported or have the potential to export to international markets including New Zealand,” she explains.
Some of these are Cocoa, Sandalwood logs, Sandalwood oil, Beef, Kava, Biscuits and Snacks, Corned beef, Hand-made Bilums (string bags), Canned tuna, Coconut oil, Coffee, Processed timber, Tunnels and Soil-less Crop Systems, Scorie or Cinder Ash, Solar Water, Heaters, Virgin Coconut Oil, Sweet Biscuits among others.
Identifying challenges that small exporters from the MSG nations face, Ms Chigwada said, “Producers and exporters of these products require technical assistance to overcome real and perceived barriers to accessing the New Zealand and other international markets.”
Ms Chigwada, who has 25 years’ experience of research and analysis in trade agreements, trade negotiations, trade promotion, aid for trade and private sector development, will spend the week meeting up with business contacts and potential importers while being based at the PT&I offices.
Ms Chigwada hopes for an outcome where PT&I Auckland and MSG Secretariat could design a collaborative programme that is demand driven for effective use of resources. “We need to evolve a strategy that would provide a smooth bridge between MSG exporters and New Zealand importers of MSG products,” she says.