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By Pita Ligaiula in Nairobi, Kenya
Fiji’s Foreign and Defence Minister Inia Seruiratu has pleaded with ACP sugar producing countries to come forward and express interest to host the 14th ACP Ministerial Conference on Sugar.
Speaking at the 110th session of the ACP Council of Minister Meeting in Nairobi, Seruiratu said the conference is well overdue to take stock of their current situation and determine a strategic trajectory and way forward for this sector.
It has been six years since the last and the 13th Ministerial Conference was held Fiji.
Seruiratu said the sugar industry remains critical for many of our ACP states, including Small Island developing states like Fiji.
“Sugar is one of the traditional pillars of our economy and supports the economic well-being of over 20% of Fiji’s population.
“While sugar production remains critical for our economies, never has the sector faced challenges it is facing now. The sugar industries in ACP and LDC countries have been suffering from a combination of factors that have severely affected the returns and viability of an industry,” he explained.
Seruiratu said the reform of the EU sugar regime in 2017 led to a sharp fall in prices within the EU and in imports from ACP/LDC countries.
“The displaced ACP/LDC sugar has had to be exported onto world markets which are currently oversupplied and themselves affected by a number of subsidies in many major producing countries, including the EU.
“World market prices remain at historical lows and well below the cost of production in even the most efficient producing countries. Added to this is the changing weather patterns and frequently occurring natural disasters such a cyclones and droughts due to climate change which is having a drastic impact on sugar production,” Seruiratu said.
He said the ACP Group is at a crossroad, having to define its post 2020 future globally, and to redefine its partnership with the EU, while simultaneously addressing a number of challenges including BREXIT, preference erosion and the sharp drop in commodity prices.
“It is for this reason that we need to strategise and reposition ourselves through implementation of key strategic policies, such as the New Approach which aims at reducing ACP dependence on raw materials and promoting value addition and integration of ACP States into regional and global value chains.
“As regards to the issue of Voluntary Coupled Support (VCS), we need to continue working closely with other allies such as the European Parliament Development Committee in pushing our agenda,” he said.
Meanwhile, Seruiratu has welcomed the inclusion of kava which is a key commodity for the Pacific region, in the ACP Agriculture Value Chain programme.
In December last year, for the first time ever, a Kava company, namely ‘Fiji Kava’ was listed on a global stock exchange.
Seruiratu said there has also been substantial amount of work done for development of a CODEX Standard for Kava.
“Despite the progress achieved, we do not see Kava, a commodity with tremendous economic potential for the Pacific region given due priority by the EU as it continues to maintain unfair restriction on Kava imports in its market.
“We maintain our consistent call for the EU to match the flexibility demonstrated by the ACP states and to support the ACP commodities initiative, including adequate resourcing for kava initiatives.
I am mindful that this is not the first time that I rise to make this case for kava, but it is case that we in the Pacific feel strongly about,” Seruiratu told the Council of Ministers.
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