V. MULTILATERAL TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT AGREEMENTS IN DOMESTIC POLICY FORMULATION IN FIJI
It is the view of the National State of the Environment Report (Watling and Chape, 1992) that “Fiji cannot afford to be complacent with respect of international ‘green’ bans which could damage certain exports of national significance, notably native timbers, as well as ginger and sugar. A ban on Pacific island hardwoods has already been proposed by Australia and New Zealand environmental groups because of the perceived exploitation of landowners, poor logging practices and the unsustainable nature of the industry. The focus of attention has been the abuses in the forestry sector of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. However, such bans could cover all of Melanesia, and with further lobbying could very easily materialize”. The appropriate strategy for the Fiji timber industry is to convert that adverse international attention to a competitive advantage, through the establishment of a verifiable reputation that adopts environmentally sustainable practices.
The National State of the Environment Report also warns that the current unsustainable agricultural practices in the ginger industry could be subject to ‘green ban’ attention. Economic pressures are, however, now starting to move the industry away from the step slope areas that have been subject to serious land degradation problems.
More important is the sugar industry, the market for which is the European Union. The industry already faces the prospects of lower market prices, as the European Union adjusts to the requirements of WTO with respect to agricultural protection and trade preferences. Superimposed on that situation is the pressure that could be brought to bear on the European Union by the sophisticated European environmental lobby to reduce preferences for sugar from Fiji. The objective would be to force marginal cane lands, where unsustainable agricultural practices are commonplace, out of production. The European Union would be in an increasingly untenable position if it had to justify subsidies of any sort which were encouraging unsustainable agriculture, especially in the absence of any obvious attempts at control by the host country. To counter that possibility, the reintroduction of the previously highly successful vetiver grass budding programme needs to be given serious consideration.
For sugar, as with timber, environmental concerns could be turned to marketing advantage. A significant market now exists for certified organically grown and processed sugar, which receives considerable price premiums over conventional sugar. Organic products are those grown in a sustainable manner without artificial chemicals. To be marketed, those products need to be certified by an approved body. Fiji’s low input smallholder sugar cane production systems would be amenable to conversion to organic production systems.