Tuvalu PM sees private sector as key to development

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ had the privilege earlier this month of welcoming Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga of the tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu to our offices in Auckland.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga (second from right) flanked by Joe Fuavao (r) and Dev Nadkarni (l) with Asogali Faavae Panapa (secretary to the PM at extreme left) and PM Office CEO Chief Executive Fakavae Taomia.

The Prime Minister had stopped in New Zealand on his way back to Tuvalu after visiting Nauru to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence and was scheduled to meet New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Mr Sopoaga, who has been Tuvalu’s Prime Minister since 2013 sees a major role for the private sector in helping economic development as also to fight the effects of climate change in his atoll nation.

Tuvalu is considered one of the most threatened Pacific Island nations because of rising sea levels due to climate change, like its neighbouring atoll nation of Kiribati. The nation was working on many fronts to combat the effects of climate change, Mr Sopoaga said, reiterating that the private sector could be instrumental in helping create economic resilience.

Mr Sopoaga lays much store by some of Tuvalu’s traditional products like toddy or viscous coconut sugar syrup. “It has great potential,” he told Joe Fuavao, PTI NZ’s Trade Development Manager and Dev Nadkarni, Marketing, Communications & Research Manager and Pacific Periscope Editor. He said coconut oil and breadfruit were also promising candidates for exports with the right kind of processing and packaging inputs to develop them.

Speaking of toddy, the Prime Minister said there were no supply issues because of the abundance of coconut trees and the communities’ readiness in producing toddy for sale. “One coconut can produce as much as five litres of toddy,” he said. Currently the activity is organised in the style of a cooperative, buying product from communities across the atolls and selling only locally for about A$5 for a two-litre bottle.

Mr Sopoaga believes the product has good export potential. The government has had samples assayed at the laboratories of the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, Fiji and have developed a nutrition label in preparation for exports.

PTI NZ is exploring developing Tuvaluan toddy as an exportable product through its Deal by Science initiative under the Path to Market programme. Under the Deal by Science initiative PTI works closely with the Food Science Department of the University of Otago to apply scientific rigour to Pacific Island product development.

The aim of this initiative is to optimise appearance, packaging, labelling and additionally, in the case of consumable products like toddy, determining the optimal ingredient and recipe mix, assaying nutritive value and optimising shelf life.

Mr Fuavao and Mr Nadkarni explained the Deal by Science initiative to the Prime Minister and his Departmental Chief Executive Fakavae Taomia and described the projects undertaken in 2017. Mr Sopoaga was appreciative of the initiative and suggested that other crops like Pulaka (wild taro) and pandanus could also be explored to develop products under the Deal by Science initiative just like toddy.

The Prime Minister is hopeful that the recently ratified Pacer Plus trade deal would make available funding for such product development initiatives for export. He said this was a good opportunity to address the trade imbalance between the Pacific Islands and New Zealand and Australia. “Both these countries need to help. We could do with a little positive discrimination here,” he said.

Mr Sopoaga said it was important to leverage the ‘Tuvaluan diaspora’ living in New Zealand to participate in the economic development process. “Awareness needs to be created on how Tuvaluans here could help,” he added.

PTI’s presence and participation in events like the Pasifika Festival was a good way to engage with Pacific people in New Zealand and strengthen links with the islands, he said.

Mr Sopoaga will host the Polynesian Leaders’ Group meeting this year in Tuvalu in June. The annual Pacific Island Forum leaders’ meeting will also take place in Tuvalu next year.

For more information please email PTI Trade Development Manager Joe Fuavao at joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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