Samoa Trade Commissioner plans strategic growth in NZ trade

AUCKLAND, 20 JUNE 2018 (PACIFIC PERISCOPE) —Two months into his new assignment as Samoa’s Trade Commissioner and Consul based in Auckland, Magele Mauiliu Magele is keen to craft new strategies to increase Samoa’s exports to New Zealand and garner more investment from New Zealand into Samoa.

New Zealand educated Mr Magele, has worked in Government positions and as a senior academic in Samoa and brings deep insight into the people-to-people relationships between Kiwis and Samoans and how that could be possibly leveraged to better trade ties between the two countries.

Trade Commissioner Magele has earlier been Vice-Chancellor and President, the National University of Samoa (NUS) and the Founding Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Polytechnic. From 2011 to 2016, he served a full five-year parliamentary term in Samoa as Minister of Education, Sports & Culture; was also Minister responsible for the National University of Samoa, Samoa Qualifications Authority, Samoa Language Commission, the National Archives and Records Authority and Chair of UNESCO’s Local Commission Secretariat.

He is an alumnus of Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and has qualifications from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, besides the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“New Zealand and Samoa have always had a great trading relationship but there is a wide gap between volumes traded – and that gap doesn’t seem to be closing anytime soon. We need to be proactive and address it strategically,” Magele told Pacific Periscope in an interview at Samoa House last week.

The trade gap is indeed considerable: In 2016 New Zealand exported $110 million (US$75 million) worth of goods to Samoa while Samoa exported just $6.7 million ($4.6 million) worth of merchandise. Most of this export from Samoa comprise edible vegetables and fruit nuts and beverages. And agricultural exports are exactly what Trade Commissioner Magele wants to concentrate on, among other initiatives.

“We need to make exports of Samoan taro really efficient,” he said. The demand for Samoan taro has always been there but Magele believes the gaps in the supply chain need to be fixed.

He has been visiting retail outlets selling produce in several of Auckland’s suburbs and says there are differences in the way in which Fijian taro and Samoan taro are distributed. “I notice Fiji is doing it better. I suspect they have better infrastructure and supply chain processes to bring in fresher, better quality produce into New Zealand quicker than Samoa can. We need to learn from that,” he said.

Shipping schedules between Samoa and New Zealand are less frequent than those from Fiji causing harvested taro to sit in storage longer. “It may well be that the downtime between the harvest and the export is too long where the produce might be open to spoilage and arriving here in not the best of shape. A lot of the blame is put on New Zealand’s quarantine regime — but I’m not so sure,” he said.

The recent market success of frozen taro is an encouraging development and must be pursued, he says. “But the costs of processing, packaging and compliance are higher, making the frozen product dearer than fresh taro.” However, he is confident that the frozen taro market will grow in time to come, and Samoa must gear up to export more taro in this frozen, packaged form.

Breadfruit is another crop that holds a lot of promise, Magele said. Breadfruit flour is gaining popularity in many markets around the world as the preferred ingredient for gluten free bread. “Breadfruit is plentiful in Samoa. Our research organisation in Samoa [Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa or SROS] is developing breadfruit flour with a view to commercialise it,” he added.

One New Zealand company that imports breadfruit flour for distribution in the domestic market told Pacific Periscope their company had been importing half a ton a year from Samoan suppliers and there was potential for more.

Magele believes innovative relationships between the Samoan Government and the private sector such as Public Private Partnerships (PPP) would be worth exploring to bring about better efficiencies in the agricultural and fresh produce export sector. Organisations like the Unit Trust of Samoa could be tapped for ideas and funding toward initiatives like these, he said.

The Trade Commissioner’s wish list during his three-year tenure is to see a tangible in more frequent shipping schedules, lower freight costs, better supply chain management for produce, better quarantine compliance and making distribution and retail chains more efficient within New Zealand.

Samoan human capital is another area in which Samoa and New Zealand could work together for mutual benefit, Magele said. Currently Samoa has just 11 skilled people working as carpenters, roofers, tilers, air conditioning technicians and so on, he said. “With so much construction activity in New Zealand, the country could well look at getting more skilled people from Samoa.”

The annual quota of 1100 places for immigration from Samoa into New Zealand is “only about half-filled,” he said. Some of this quota could go toward trained skilled tradesmen from Samoa to meet New Zealand’s growing shortfall, he believes, and is set to discuss this plan with New Zealand’s Minister for Building Construction and Ethnic Communities, Jenny Salesa, shortly.

He would also like to see increased numbers of Samoans in New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme in the horticultural sector. The sector has been affected by a lack of farmhands this season. More Samoan workers, of whom 1600 are already registered to work in the country, could well enter the scheme, he said.

Magele is keen to work with Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand and other Pacific organisations in New Zealand to grow sales of Samoan grown and Samoan products here. “Our garment and clothing sector could do well with better promotion here. I plan to network with Pacific organisations and see how we can work together in the coming weeks and months,” he said.