For the South Pacific Kava producing countries, Australia 🇦🇺 attitude toward kava has been and still is hard to understand.
Kava has been part of the daily life in the islands, part of traditional custom ceremonies , part of the traditional pharmacopeia for thousands of years. So- of course -when Australia, their biggest big brother , their biggest Regional Aid donor, their major economical partner, threat kava like a bad-second grade -dangerous -drug, dangerous for the Australians- as if they were superior to the islanders- of course people feel offended.
Why?? Well, we get offended because we know that kava is safe. Because some of our highly respectable people drink kava, not drug addicts. In fact, almost everyone drinks kava in the islands, it is part of the daily life, same as having an espresso in the morning in Italy. And it is often a high sign of respect to share kava with someone. Our parents, our grand parents, our kings, our chiefs, our leaders , all have been and are consuming it. And they are not drug addicts! And today the science is with us : The WHO report highlighted the safety of kava consumed the traditional way. Kava is not a drug. It is a relaxing drink. The opposite of coffee which gives you a boost in the morning. It simply relaxes you. Simple..
But despite these reports, despite all the evidence we bring in the spotlight , our noble drink our kava is still sadly looked down by our biggest neighbor.
It is a fact that kava has been abused in some remote aboriginal communities. Yes. Kava was introduced there to try and replace alcohol, which was ravaging those communities. Similar programs had been successfully implemented in Port-Vila and in Noumea, so why not there ??? But this program was sadly not properly monitored. And kava was abused. The program failed, kava was blamed and kava banned. Despite the ban, yes, it is a fact that some unscrupulous individuals had kept supplying kava to these communities-which already have lot of other issues to deal with- brought in Australia through the passenger 2 kg allowance. Yes.
The question are if someone sniff glue, do we stop the import of glue? And, as alcohol is causing lots of harm and death almost daily in all the Pacific islands have our South Pacific leaders said that we will stop importing VB or Bundaberg rum to control the problem? No. Because we know. The problem is not the use of the product, but the abuse. Exactly the same as sugary products and drinks are affecting us with record level of Diabetes and NCD.
And at the same time, Kava is considered as a food in New Zealand, Kava Lounges are booming in the United States oF America. So if kava is safe and not an issue at all, widely accepted over there,, what is wrong with Australia?
This is why for us Pacific Islanders the Australian position is impossible or very hard to understand. And very frustrating.
The confirmation of the increase of the passenger allowance from 2 kg to 4 kg is a good step in the right direction. A good but yet very small. One may argue that the trade will double. Yes . But doubling something fairly insignificant is not much! For a country like Vanuatu, the economical benefits for such an increase will be close to null. And also it still means that Kava is still treated and considered as a bad dangerous drug, which and should not be consumed in Australia, which is yet fairly insulting to us. . The Pacific Island countries want commercial import. Simple. Normal trade for our kava. At a time when most Pacific island countries are part of the WTO, at a time when Australia is pushing for PACER PLUS ratification, despite that we have little competitive industries (for many reasons), what is wrong in requesting normal fair trade for one of our product?
Australia is one of the biggest Aid donor in the region. Yes.. But we don’t want Aid , we welcome Aid as it helps us in lots of aspects of our development, but we want to be as independent as possible, we want trade, not Aid! Do you understand? And for the first time ever we have a commodity with high value, empowering our farmers… Our farmers are paying for school fees with kava, our shipping is efficient because of kava , our islands are developing through the kava trade … and yet Australia – who pretend to be our friend and best partner, who is supposed to help us getting more economically independent – doesn’t accept it!
One may ask why do we want to export to Australia? Simply for trade fairness. Simple. We import billions dollars worth of goods from Australia. So let us balance a little the scale by exporting a bit of kava. We are not begging here. We just want our kava to be considered as a normal tradable commodity, in a similar way as when we import your brocoli and your VB, in a similar way as when we export our kava to other markets like New Zealand. Simple .Australia is a huge potential market for us which we are restricted to access. Huge not only because of the huge diaspora of islanders staying in Australia, but because of the millions of Australian who have visited our islands and already know about kava. A huge potential market at our doorstep for a high value crop, but yet, Australia doesn’t want it , and prefer to support other low price low potential crop…. Why????
All of the above noted points have generated a lot of frustration, and the latest announcement are now looked at with a bit of skepticism: Is Australia genuine about this kava issue? Are they doing this just pretending to be our friend to counter the Chinese influence in the region? So are they really at one stage going to open their market to us or are they simply kicking the ball in front once again???? What will be the next story in 2022???
Anyway, i guess it is a bit too early to say, So let’s be positive 😁 while waiting , and let’s all try to work positively on this.
Let’s work with Australia closely to make sure the commercial pilotes are a success. We all know it should not be complicated ! So there shouldn’t be any excuses!!!
Please find below a link to an interesting article by Liam Fox, published 17th October ,covering several aspects of the Current issues in regards to Australia’s policy toward the Pacific Green Gold.
Liam Fox has been covering the South Pacific affairs – and kava affairs – for several years