E-mails reveal NZ’s serious concerns over repeated “inconsistency, misrepresentation of information provided” by Tonga Quarantine over fruit importation papers

New Zealand’s suspension of the importation of Tongan watermelons on Tuesday has been a big blow to Tongan growers.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry CEO Dr Viliami Manu. Photo/TBC

It reflects the damage caused by what appears to be an ongoing pattern of negligence and failure by Tongan authorities.

Tongan authorities told Tongan Quarantine staff New Zealand had received misleading and false information from the kingdom about its produce.

As Kaniva News reported yesterday, Biosecurity New Zealand has suspended fresh melon imports from Tonga after Pacific fruit fly larvae were detected in a consignment of watermelons during an inspection at the Ports of Auckland.

An immediate suspension was imposed and a decision to lift it will depend on how quickly Tongan authorities can investigate the situation and put measures in place to reassure New Zealand, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Primary Industries told Kaniva News.

Until the suspension was lifted, all watermelons from Tonga arriving at New Zealand’s border would be held with the option of destruction or re-shipment.

A separate consignment of 29 tonnes of watermelon from Tonga was already being held at the border and would not be inspected or cleared.

The ban came after e-mails between New Zealand company EIF International and Tongan government authorities were leaked to Kaniva News.

EIF, which provides services for the clearance of produce and products from Tonga, raised serious concerns about the reliability of information provided by Tonga relating to the health of fruits and plant it exported.

EIF International said it repeatedly found inconsistencies and misrepresentations of information provided by Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) on the fruit and plant health document known as Phytosanitary Certificate.

In 2017 EIF International escalated its communications with MAFF and sought intervention from other Tongan authorities including Tonga’s Ministry of Customs and Revenue as well as the Ministry of Labour and Economic Development.

“Please we hereby seek your kind assistance and interventions at your level with MAFF on this important issue as per raised from the email correspondence below from EIF International NZ,” an e-mail from EIF to Tonga read.

“Given the importance of this issue in getting products from Tonga cleared under NZ protocols and MPI we seek your kind assistance and interventions with MAFF Quarantine on how they can improve the quality of their processes and information provided under their Phyto Certificate.”

The e-mails were sent to a former CEO of the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as well as the Head of Business Support and Facilitation Division of the Ministry of Labour and Economic Development.

The emails were also forwarded to MAFF CEO Dr Viliami Manu and other then government ministers.

“I am hoping you can be of assistance, as you may be aware we do a bit at the moment of produce from Tonga to New Zealand and we have run into a few problems/issues with regards to Quarantine in Tonga,” one e-mail read.

“Produce from the Islands into New Zealand requires a reconciliation at this end and so far we have experienced these recons not matching up to what Quarantine Tonga issue on the Phyto Cert.

“Last we dealt with MFAT and Pacific Trade and Invest they had concerns with regards to the integrity of the Phyto certs from Tonga.

“I am hoping that you can point me in the right direction as to the best person in Tongan Quarantine that I can direct concerns to. As you can appreciate Phytosanitary Certificates are issued under the ISPM regulations and as such NPPOs rely heavily on this to endorse a countries credibility/integrity.”

“EIF International provide the services for clearance of produce and products from Tonga arriving for Buyers in NZ, however EIF International constantly found inconsistency and perhaps misrepresentation of information provided by MAFF Quarantine on the Phyto Certificate.”

One of the Tongan authorities to whom the e-mails were sent responded and warned MAFF about the importance of addressing the concerns from New Zealand urgently.

“The emails (from EIF) showed how we failed in our responsibilities to work together with each other so we could implement the developments policies we discussed daily.”

The authority said if nothing was done to fix the problems, they would not be showing any respect for the people who paid for the Tongan produce.

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