By WILLIE BRUL
TRADE, Commerce and Industry Minister Richard Maru is on the verge of declaring a “trade war” with Melanesian counterpart Fiji.
He said PNG will be compelled to enforce retaliatory measures against Fiji for its continued disrespect of trading relationship between the two countries.
M Maru made this remark on Thursday and said enough is enough. He said it is time now for PNG to protect its economy, trade, investments, employment and business opportunities against countries which don’t want to trade fairly and equally with it.
Mr Maru said since 2006 and before that, Fiji has continued to refuse importing products from PNG citing bio-security reasons even though both countries were signatories and members of the Melanesian Free Trade Agreement (MFTA) and Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) respectively.
“Fiji’s continued disrespect for the trading relationship with Papua New Guinea, and the arrogance that has been demonstrated over many years, leaves us with no other option but to take retaliatory action against our Melanesian brothers,” he said.
“In the modern world, we are engaging through open trade relationships that benefit producers and consumers, but these issues with Fiji have been ongoing for more than a decade. As co-operative partners Papua New Guinea allows Fiji to access our comparatively huge consumer market, investment opportunities and job market.
“We have allowed Fiji to have a trade surplus with Papua New Guinea for a long time and trade volumes are increasing. However, now is the time to either work together or for Papua New Guinea to tighten its belt against Fiji.”
Mr Maru said over the years Fiji has refused to import some of PNG’s iconic products like Ox and Palm and Trukai Rice and other PNG products from entering Fiji. He said despite this the country has continued to import products from Fiji such as Fiji Island Corned Beef, Fiji Water and poultry products among others.
On top of that, he said, PNG also allows businesses and entrepreneurs from Fiji to do businesses in the country and provide employment opportunities for many Fijians in both the public and private sectors.
Recently, Mr Maru wrote to Fiji’s minister for tourism, trade and industry to ask for clarification on the reasons for restricting PNG goods entry into Fiji, and also attended the 4th MSG Trade Ministers Meeting in 2016 in Port Vila, and sought to have a ministerial bilateral meeting but his Fijian counterpart failed to respond and attend on both occasions.
“I have created numerous occasions for Fiji to cooperate on these issues and provide a satisfactory explanation, but they have not been able to do so and now we must take further action,” he said.
“We will implement retaliatory measures in the coming weeks that will provide balance to this unnecessary situation.
“I have already discussed options with Agriculture Minister, Tommy Tomscoll, and our next step will be to not allow the entry of Fiji poultry products into Papua New Guinea.”
Mr Maru said Fiji’s actions also ignore the Melanesian free trade agreement that MSG countries concluded this year.
“MSG countries have committed to trade freely and this behavior from Fiji against other members is unacceptable,” he said.
“We have made substantial commitments under the MFTA to open up more trade and investment opportunities with the MSG countries, and the Pacific region as a whole.
“These arrangements benefit the people of all countries, including Fiji, with the view to encourage intra-trade and investment to transform economies and lives.
“Immediate measures that can be taken include Fiji quarantine officers must stop confiscating food from Fijians returning from PNG.
“Papua New Guinea’s listing on Fiji’s Passenger Arrival Card as a country with bio-security concerns must be addressed as this is simply a behind-the-border barrier to trade that is not imposed on other MSG countries.”
According to the Trade, Commerce and Industry Department, PNG primarily exports to Fiji coffee, tea, tuna, canned tuna, instant coffee, milo, spices, copra oil-cake, cigarettes, soap and detergents, plastic boxes, sacks and bags, waste and scrap of primary cells and primary batteries.
It imports insulated wire, cable, flour, meal powder, brans and other residues of wheat, corn flour, soap and cleansing preparation, biscuits, tubes, pipes and fittings, bitumen and asphalt from Fiji.
PNG has around three-quarters of total trade volume among the Pacific island countries.