Vanuatu promises to take kava ban to WTO

By

Len Garae

When the European Union announced its ban on Vanuatu kava on the EU Market in 2002, it was Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy’s prayer that Vanuatu would not need to go that far to take the ban to the World Trade Organisation’s Complaint’s Committee.

It was his hope that the issue would be sorted out amicably without reaching the WTO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Vanuatu was not yet a member of WTO then.

This time however, the country is a member of WTO and the Vanuatu Embassy in Brussels confirmed Minister Toara Daniel told the Joint ACP-EU Joint Trade Ministerial Committee that EU’s persistent stand to view kava as an agricultural product leaves the Government with no alternative but to bring its concern to the global conference in Bali in Indonesia next month.

The Minister was speaking at the Economic Partnership Agreement meeting in Brussels last week.
What it means is that Vanuatu has a right as a member of WTO, to apply through the WTO complaints mechanism, for compensation for its financial losses since the ban came into effect approximately eleven years ago.

The 2002 import restrictions imposed on kava by some EU Member States led to a collapse of Pacific exports and to serious economic damage.
“It is estimated that annual losses from the EU’s Kava restrictions amount to 4 million Euros. This is equivalent to the annual wage of 3,500 Pacific farmers, or 1.5% of the Vanuatu population,” he told the EPA Committee.

The following are excerpts of what he said:
“Mr Chairman, I wish to take the floor to briefly discuss matters related to Kava. Kava is a key export commodity for the Pacific. The smallholding nature of kava farming guarantees that earnings from exports are fairly distributed and that therefore through Kava poverty is alleviated.

“Mr Chairman, as if the damage imposed by the EU’s Kava restrictions was not enough, I must note with disappointment that the EC is now arguing against the possibility of referring to Kava in the EPA legal text as one of our traditional export commodities. Mr. Chairman, Kava has always been traded in the Pacific. The EU’s negotiating stance on this issue is therefore frankly unacceptable.

“Mr Chairman, it is hard to believe that a few cases of hepatoxic reactions which were tentatively associated to Kava could produce such a disproportionate response from the EU. If the same disproportionate approach was to be applied across the board it is well possible that import restrictions would still be in place for products such as Italian wine and Spanish cucumbers. Mr. Chairman, the Pacific is not asking for any special and differential treatment with regard to Kava. We are only asking that Kava is dealt with according to same criteria as those applied to the agricultural products originating in the EU.

“Mr Chairman, Pacific countries continue to be engaged in their regional initiative for the re-establishment of sustainable market access for Kava. The establishment of international CODEX standard for Kava is one of our top priorities to achieve our objectives and I do genuinely hope that EU assistance will be forthcoming on this matter.

“Mr Chairman, please let me conclude by noting that Vanuatu will formally raise the issue of Kava at the forthcoming MC9 meeting in Bali. This will represent the first step of our engagement strategy at WTO level. We trust that the multilateral trading system will provide a suitable avenue to progress discussion on an issue which touches the very heart of the Pacific”.

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