South Pacific Trade

chipped pine being processed for export at Lautoka, Fiji

chipped pine being processed for export at Lautoka, Fiji

Australia and New Zealand have huge trade surpluses with the Pacific islands and the trade deficits make these nations the main beneficiaries of the island economies. A shipping company, the Pacific Forum Line, was set up in 1977 by the Pacific Islands Forum to facilitate trade with Australia and New Zealand, but in practice, the Line’s large container ships run full northbound and empty southbound. In 2012 the Government of Samoa purchased the PFL to ensure the continuation of reliable and affordable shipping services. Investment and tourism help to offset the trade imbalances somewhat, but these also foster dependence.

The main products exported by the South Pacific countries are sugar (Fiji), seafood (American Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Solomon Islands), clothing and footwear (Fiji), minerals (Fiji, New Caledonia, and Solomon Islands), timber (Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu), and black pearls (the Cook Islands and French Polynesia). Japan purchases timber and fish from Solomon Islands and nickel ore from New Caledonia.

Agricultural products such as bananas, cacao, coconut oil, coffee, copra, palm oil, pineapples, sugar, taro, tea, and vanilla are subject to price fluctuations over which local governments have no control, plus low demand and strong competition from other developing country producers. Most of these commodities are processed and marketed outside the islands by transnationals. Even worse, efforts to increase the output of commodities reduces subsistence food production, leading to imports of processed food. Bodies such as the World Bank push for cash cropping and expanded trade in food, usually at the expense of self-sufficiency. New Zealand meat exporters routinely ship low-quality “Pacific cuts” of fatty, frozen mutton flaps unsalable on world markets to countries like Tonga and Samoa. American companies dump junk foods such as “turkey tails” in the islands, and tinned mystery meats arrive from afar. Processed foods saturated with sugar and fat are popular in the islands due to their convenience and low cost; imported rice is less expensive than taro. Diet-related diseases such as diabetes are the hidden cost.

The new order of colonialism in the Pacific is known as “globalization.” The World Bank and other international banks aggressively market “project loans” designed to facilitate the production of goods for sale on world markets. The initial beneficiaries of these projects are the contractors, while the ability of transnational corporations to exploit the region’s natural resources is enhanced. Subsistence food production is reduced and the recipient state is left with a debt burden it can only service through exports. Free trade forces Pacific countries to compete with low-wage producers in Asia and Latin America where human rights and the environment are often of scant concern.

Should commodity exports fail, the International Monetary Fund steps in with emergency loans to make sure the foreign banks don’t lose their money. Local governments are forced to accept “structural adjustment programs” dictated from Washington, and the well-paid Western bankers mandate that social spending be cut. Another favorite trick is to persuade governments to shift the tax burden from rich to poor by replacing income and company taxes with a value-added tax. Customs duties are removed and tottering administrations are forced to clearcut their rainforests or sell their soil to meet financial obligations. This kind of chicanery has caused untold misery in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, usually with the connivance of corrupt local officials.

A much fairer arrangement is the 20-year Cotonou Agreement (signed in 2000), previously known as the Lome Convention, which provides for the preferential entry into the EU at fixed prices of set quotas of agricultural commodities from 78 African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. Many experts believe that trade subsidies of this kind are the most effective way of delivering aid to developing countries without the intervention of state bureaucracies. This type of arrangement is crucial to countries that rely on a single export for much of their foreign exchange. The United States has lobbied vigorously against subsidized trading agreements of this kind in favor of “free trade” to allow American corporations based in Latin America to export tropical commodities produced cheaply through the use of semislave labor to Europe.

The South Pacific Aid Game

Rarotonga courthouse built with Chinese aid.

Rarotonga courthouse built with Chinese aid.

South Pacific countries like Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands have classic “MIRAB” economies, based on migration, remittances, aid, and bureaucracy. An overwhelming proportion of aid money is given by metropolitan powers to their colonies, past or present. France spends a billion dollars a year maintaining its three Pacific colonies, although much of the money returns to France to pay for French imports or services. Australia and New Zealand provide smaller amounts of aid to various Pacific islands. Most of U.S. aid is spent in American Samoa and the U.S.-related entities in Micronesia.

Other European countries such as Britain and Germany channel most of their aid through the European Union, which supplies soft loans, import quotas and subsidies, and technical assistance. Japan is one of the largest providers of bilateral aid to the independent countries. The Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and United Nations agencies are also significant players in the aid game.

Although the South Pacific absorbs the highest rate of per capita aid in the world, much of the money is wasted on doing things for people instead of helping them do things for themselves. Aid that empowers people by increasing their capacity to identify, understand, and resolve problems is the exception, while prestige projects like huge airports, sophisticated communications networks, and fancy government buildings, which foster dependence on outsiders, are the rule. Direct budgetary aid to countries like Papua New Guinea is often siphoned off by corrupt politicians.

Japanese aid is intended primarily to ensure easy access for its fishing fleet and to support Japanese business activities in the islands. Virtually all Japanese aid is “tied,” with most of the benefit going to Japanese companies. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand are to be commended for taking the trouble to develop low-profile micro projects to assist individual communities.

Aid spent in the capitals prompts unproductive migrations to the towns. There’s a growing imbalance between the cost of government in relation to locally generated revenues. Salaries for officials, consultants, and various other roving “experts” eat up much aid. The only Pacific country with a high per capita income that is not highly dependent on aid is Fiji.

How to Be a Good Traveler

Fiji handicrafts Foreign travel is an exceptional experience enjoyed by a privileged few. Too often, tourists try to transfer their lifestyles to tropical islands, thereby missing out on what is unique to the region. Travel can be a learning experience if approached openly and with a positive attitude, so read up on the local culture before you arrive and become aware of the social and environmental problems of the area. A wise traveler soon graduates from hearing and seeing to listening and observing. It’s not for nothing that we have two eyes and ears but only one mouth.

The path is primed with packaged pleasures, but pierce the bubble of tourism and you’ll encounter something far from the schedules and organized efficiency: a time to learn how other people live. Walk gently, for human qualities are as fragile and subject to abuse as the brilliant reefs. The South Pacific islanders are by nature soft-spoken and reserved. Often they won’t show open disapproval if their social codes are broken, but don’t underestimate them: They understand far more than you think. Consider that you’re only one of thousands of visitors to their country, so don’t expect to be treated better than anyone else. Respect is one of the most important things in island life and humility is also greatly appreciated.

Don’t try for a bargain if it means someone will be exploited. What enriches you may violate others. Don’t promise things you can’t or won’t deliver. Keep your time values to yourself; the Pacific islanders lead an unstressful lifestyle and assume that you are there to share it.

This is no tourist’s paradise, though, and local residents are not exhibits or paid performers. They have just as many problems as you, and if you see them as real people you’re less likely to be viewed as a stereotypical tourist. You may have come to escape civilization, but keep in mind that you’re just a guest.

Most important of all, try to see things their way. Take an interest in local customs, values, languages, challenges, and successes. If things work differently than they do back home, give thanks-that’s why you’ve come. Reflect on what you’ve experienced and you’ll return home with a better understanding of how much we all have in common, outwardly different as we may seem. Do that and your trip won’t have been wasted.

Religion in the South Pacific

Church of the Scared Heart, Levuka, Fiji

Church of the Scared Heart, Levuka, Fiji

Religion plays an important role in the lives of the Pacific islanders, holding communities together and defending moral values. No other non-European region of the world is as solidly Christian as the South Pacific, and unfortunately it sometimes seems to be one of the most uncritical, obedient, narrow-minded, and hypocritical strains of Christianity extant on the planet. The first missionaries to arrive were Protestants, and the Catholic fathers who landed almost 40 years later had to rely on French military backing to establish missions in Tahiti, the Marquesas, and New Caledonia. In Fiji 45 percent of the population is Hindu or Muslim due to the large Indo-Fijian population.

Since the 1960s, the old rivalry between Protestant and Catholic has been largely replaced by an avalanche of well-financed American fundamentalist missionary groups that divide families and spread confusion in an area already strongly Christian. While the indigenous churches have long been localized, the new evangelical sects are dominated by foreign personnel, ideas, and money. American televangelists proselytize from TV screens clear across the South Pacific Bible Belt from Rarotonga to Fiji. Some 20 percent of Pacific islanders now belong to charismatic, evangelical, or fundamentalist religious sects. The ultraconservative outlook of the new religious imperialists continues the tradition of allying Christianity with colonialism or neocolonialism.

The established Protestant denominations are the Evangelicals of French Polynesia and New Caledonia, the Methodists of Tonga and Fiji, the Congregationalists of Samoa, the Presbyterians of Vanuatu, and the Anglicans of Solomon Islands. Catholics are present in every country. The ecumenical Pacific Conference of Churches began in 1961 as an association of the mainstream Protestant churches, but since 1976 many Catholic dioceses have been included as well. Both the Pacific Theological College (founded in 1966) and the Pacific Regional Seminary (opened in 1972) are in Suva, Fiji, and the South Pacific is one of the few areas of the world with a large surplus of ministers of religion.

Do Not Ever Whisper

Don't Ever Whisper Don’t Ever Whisper is a newly published biography of Darlene Keju, a longtime Marshall Islands activist on nuclear issues. Keju grew up on islands downwind of the 67 US nuclear tests at Bikini and Enewetak in the Marshall Islands, and later in life championed the cause of nuclear test survivors on her islands. The book focuses heavily on this, as well as recently declassified US nuclear test-era documents that help document a more than 50-year cover up by the US government of the extent of fallout contamination from its tests in the Marshall Islands. The book also narrates Darlene’s establishment of the Youth to Youth in Health program to promote family planning and adolescent health services, a non-profit group that was recognized as a model program for the Pacific region. The book’s author is veteran Marshall Islands journalist Giff Johnson, who also happens to be Darlene Keju’s partner. Don’t Ever Whisper is essential reading for anyone interested in hearing the inside story of 20th century US nuclear imperialism in Micronesia.

9 Must Dos When Visiting Tahiti

La Diademe

La Diademe courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme

Thinking of visiting Tahiti? Great idea! There are many beautiful things to see. For many, traveling to such a destination can be expensive even if they are using credit cards with best rates. From passport fees, to plane tickets, to sightseeing, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Use your best credit cards for good credit to create your dream vacation. Choosing a destination that is so far from home can be a scary thought.

Financial mumbo jumbo aside, we have compiled a list of reasons you should visit Tahiti, as life will quickly pass you by and this opportunity may never come knocking again.

1. Museum Of Tahiti and the Islands: This museum tells the story of Tahiti through artifacts. The exhibition includes Polynesian history, ethnology, culture, and environment. If you are the kind of person who appreciates history and culture, this is a must do.
2. Punaaui Beach: If you are one for the sun and exotic fish, this is perfect way to enjoying some relaxation while experiencing nature at it’s finest.
3. Paul Gauguin Museum: Art enthusiast or not, you will be impressed with this museum. The museum is dedicated to the works of artist Paul Gauguin. It is home to sculptures, engravings and wood carvings that are inspired by his French Polynesian life.
4. Tahiti Lagoonarium: Swim with fish, sharks, and rays. This is a calm, safe environment in which you can become one with the environment. This is great for those who have never snorkeled, as well as those who consider themselves experienced in the area of sea life.
5. Maraa Grotto: A fan of optical illusions? This cavern is equipped with a black lake that creates just that - a perfect photo opportunity that is rich in history and beauty.
6. Point Venus: The landing site for many famous explorers including Captain Cook, Point Venus is surrounded by black sand and natural beauty. With absolutely no development surrounding the point, the black sand against blue oceans creates a beautiful contrast that is not comparable.
7. Fautaua Waterfall: This wondrous site cascades more than 980 feet over volcanic cliffs and is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. You would be a fool not to visit.
8. James Norman Hall Home: This is a replica of the home of the famous author. For Mutiny on the Bounty fans or non-fans alike, you will find interest in the life of Hall.
9. Nemo Cruises Day: Spend the day in the middle of the lagoon; swim with turtles, fish, and rays. Or just relax on a beautiful boat. Either way, this is sure to be one of your favorite experiences in Tahiti.

As a side note, it is important to understand the climate you are about to experience. The summer months of November through April consist of hot and humid weather, but with these activities that include water and indoor activities, finding an escape from the heat should be no problem. If you would like to experience the cooler side of Tahiti, you should think about planning your trip outside of those months. No matter what month you opt to visit, you will be glad you did.

Volcanic Earth

Volcanic EarthAt last, the natural skin care secrets of the ancient Melanesians are being revealed by Volcanic Earth. The organic healing products available from this Vanuatu company contain no harmful chemicals, toxins, artificial preservatives, or synthetic colorings. Their amazing wild harvest Tamanu Oil combines the cleansing properties of virgin coconut oil and volcanic pumice with the natural fragrances of frangipani, vanilla, and sandalwood. This precious oil not only promotes anti-aging but also treats acne, scars, skin blemishes, age or sun spots, sunburn, and many other skin conditions. In Vanuatu it’s called Green Gold. Other lines include Unpredictable for women, Eruptable for men, Wild Ginger Lily, and CocoVan (coconut oil and vanilla). Thanks to the global reach of online marketing, the curative and regenerative remedies of traditional Melanesian medicine are now available to the world. For more information, go to Volcanic Earth.