In November 2012, the Poultry Industry Association (PIA) of Papua New Guinea (PNG) argued that the local poultry industry could meet domestic poultry meat consumption needs without any need for poultry meat imports. PIA is calling for a ban on imports of poultry meat in order to protect and nurture local poultry production. PIA’s call followed complaints in July 2012 that the PNG poultry sector was ‘under serious threat as a result of cheap chicken from Australia being imported’ (see Agritrade article ‘ Poultry imports hit Papua New Guinea producers’, 9 September 2012).
The president of PIA has also expressed concerns over the National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority’s (NAQIA’s) ‘refusal to implement proper policies’, which he considers ‘directly [threatens] PNG’s largest livestock industry’. The PIA president maintains that NAQIA’s current approach could threaten the current major expansion in the PNG poultry sector, and has called for the enforcement of a ‘cooked only’ import policy for poultry products in PNG, in line with the practice in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
These concerns follow an outbreak of ‘a highly pathogenic avian influenza known as H7 type’ in New South Wales, Australia, and the announcement in mid November of import restrictions on uncooked poultry products from that region. At the time, the managing director of NAQIA acknowledged the isolated nature of the outbreak and argued that it ‘should not have any effect on the importation of chicken meat from NSW and Australia in general’. However, as PNG’s bio-safety legislation has a statutory requirement that all poultry products be certified as coming from disease-free zones, import restrictions were nevertheless imposed. Imports from other states in Australia are unaffected, given the traceability systems in place for poultry products.
The import restrictions followed earlier expressions of concern from PIA over the safety of poultry imports from Australia. In August 2012, the sale of Australian eggs in PNG was described as ‘an absolute disgrace’ by the president of PIA, who accused NAQIA of ignoring the precautionary principle ‘by failing to implement a temporary ban during the risk assessment’. PIA maintains that NAQIA’s ‘reluctance to acknowledge indisputable scientific evidence linking virulent disease with uncooked poultry imports is baffling’. Particular concerns were expressed over imports from areas with a high risk of Newcastle disease.
NAQIA at the time described the threat from poultry product imports from Australia as ‘negligible’, maintaining that illicit trade was a far greater threat.
As in many countries, issues of protection against the international spread of animal diseases (in this case avian flu and Newcastle disease) and conventional trade protection are being blurred. Industry and government bodies in PNG appear to be in conflict over the interpretation of SPS requirements. Statements by NAQIA representatives to the effect that NAQIA was a ‘trade-facilitatory organisation’, which ‘cannot be unnecessarily impeding/hindering trade’, appear to be causing particular concern, given the common application of the precautionary principle in the poultry sector elsewhere in the world. However, the actions taken by NAQIA in the third week of November were wholly consistent with the application of the precautionary principle, covering imports of uncooked poultry products from New South Wales.
In this context, NAQIA’s action has brought to the fore its twin role of a trade facilitator and trade regulator in the areas of SPS measures. The balance is firmly founded on the application of the universally accepted precautionary principle in SPS matters. At present, the duration of the suspension is unclear. The burden of proof for the lifting of the measures rests firmly on the shoulders of the Australian authorities, who need to demonstrate unequivocally that there is no risk of the spread of the disease to PNG.
The position adopted by NAQIA is unlikely to satisfy PIA members, who are seeking broader trade protection for their industry, in order to fully develop local poultry production capacity to meet local demand (creating 4,000 jobs in the processing sector and supporting 40,000 smallholder poultry producers).
The protectionist calls from PIA’s members would appear to be in conflict with the PNG government’s general market opening policies (see Agritrade article ‘ Concerns growing over the future of PNG’s sugar industry’, 21 January 2013).