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Helping ACP exporters overcome trade barriers: the case of kava and beyond

Published on 13 January 2016, this Voices and views article published by the Capacity4Dev team considers that trade is an increasingly international business but that products must meet exacting international standards, which can be a barrier to trade for countries without adequate infrastructure, regulations, quality testing and certification. 

Although the ‘red tape’ of regulations is often bemoaned, the need for internationally-recognised standards is clear in the case of kava. The calm-inducing root, used for thousands of years by Pacific islanders as a ceremonial drink, became a major export to the EU in the 1990s. Islanders set aside land to cultivate kava, and came to depend on its revenues: around $200 million each year. Then in 2002, fears that kava was causing liver damage led Germany to withdraw licenses for kava products. The ban spread to other European countries, Australia and New Zealand. Despite thin medical evidence, trade came to a halt. The economic impact on Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tonga was severe. After much campaigning, Germany lifted its ban last year. But the islands lacked the capacity to undertake scientific assessments to rehabilitate kava’s reputation, develop safety protocols or propose standards for international trade. This EU’s ACP-EU Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) programme is working at the islands’ request to help establish quality and safety standards.

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Sarah Cummings
14 January 2016

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