NZ firms join hands to rebuild cyclone ravaged Tongan business

Following natural disasters aid and rebuilding initiatives are usually directed at communities and families. It is relatively rare though for affected businesses in disaster-struck regions, particularly in the Pacific Islands, to receive overseas assistance to rebuild damaged business infrastructure.

Charles Meyer ( Factory manager), Mel Laird (Branch manager), Siaosi Letoa (factory supervisor) filling up the container at the Metalcraft factory in Auckland.

A group of private sector companies have come together to do exactly that – rebuild a major Tongan exporter’s infrastructure devastated by Cyclone Gita earlier this year.

The initiative was put together by the Auckland chapter of the University of Otago Alumni Association.

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand Trade & Investment Commissioner Michael Greenslade, a member of the association said the idea came up at a meeting that took place just after the Cyclone Gita wreaked havoc on Tonga.

“The alumni wanted to do something for Tonga. One of the members suggested that Tonga needed assistance in rebuilding infrastructure. The association’s Auckland Chapter Chairman Alistair Ward and myself soon put together a group of alumni associated with the building and logistics industry,” Mr Greenslade said.

The group decided to direct the rebuilding effort primarily at affected Tongan businesses. Nishi Trading, one of Tonga’s leading exporters was identified. Situated on the main island of Tongatapu, the company’s farm suffered massive damage, where some 300 acres of plantation was affected in addition to severely damaged buildings housing its packhouses and other infrastructure.

Nishi Trading’s substantial warehouse lost its roof in the cyclone. (Photo: supplied)

“Nishi Trading is a substantial business that employs many Tongan people, that provides revenue for Tongan growers, ensures fresh produce arrives on the local market and the surplus gets the export till ringing again. Getting Nishi on track would have multiple positive effects for revitalising the economy,” Mr Greenslade said.

Australasia building industry major Fletcher Group committed to provide steel coils, which Metalcraft, New Zealand’s leading roofing iron manufacturer pressed the steel into roofing products. Sir Michael Jones of Matson Shipping provided a discounted freight rate.

“It was fantastic to see such a great team assembled at the university meeting arranged by Alistair Ward, the knowledge in the room was impressive and there was a real willingness from all who participated to contribute in some way shape or form,” Mel Laird, Metalcraft’s Roofing Division Branch Manager told Pacific Periscope.

“Metalcraft Roofing donated $40,000 worth of roll formed roofing products to help the Tongan people with the rebuild, all coil is sourced from NZ Steel and is made here in New Zealand,” he added.

Nishi Trading’s Minoru Nishi.

Fifty per cent of the materials that have been shipped will be used by Nishi Trading, whose packhouse was damaged forcing the company to use temporary measures to cover valuable produce. The other fifty per cent will be distributed in Tonga by NGO Habitat for Humanity New Zealand, which will assist some 300 families mostly on the island of Tongatapu with their rebuilding efforts.

Habitat for Humanity National Campaigns Manager Nā Benjamin Ross said, “Over the next few months we will be working with these 300 families, but the wider rebuilding after Cyclone Gita is likely to take many more months or years.

“We’re incredibly grateful to the private sector support of Habitat’s work. Our mission is always to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope, and this support really is an example of that. Our work with these families would not be possible without goodwill and generosity like this.”

Habitat for Humanity Chief Executive Claire Szabo thanked PTI NZ and the companies that put together the initiative. “We are very grateful that generous organisations like yours are able to directly support our programme to repair houses after the devastating cyclone,” she wrote in a letter to PTI NZ.

“Please pass our gratefulness and thanks to Fletchers and Metalcraft who have kindly donated the goods, and many thanks to Pacific Trade Invest NZ for the coordination and shipping costs.”

PTI NZ Trade Development Manager Joe Fuavao worked closely with Tevita Lautaha, Programme Manager of the Tongan Ministry of Commerce Consumer Trade Industry & Labour (MCCTIL) to work on facilitating the import processes for the donated merchandise. The building materials were imported into Tonga duty-free as they were intended for use for rebuilding after cyclone damage.

Nishi Trading Managing Director Minoru Nishi said, “I would like to extend warm regards and sincere appreciation to all working partners, stakeholders and for those that have made possible donations for the business with regards to Cyclone Gita.

“The business continues to endeavour valued opportunities for its local growers and farmers, the company staff members, community development projects, government, NGOs, respective stakeholders and working partners – to consistently maintain future opportunities for agricultural and economic development and healthy lifestyles for the people of Tonga. Despite GITA’s impact, the company endeavours to implement the first export season for the year, commencing with watermelon exports.”

Mr Greenslade said that with the success of this first initiative, future assistance of this kind could be possible with additional containers shipped in the future.

For more information email Joe Fuavao, PTI NZ Trade Development Manager at


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