11 Jun 2013

PNG's planned Marine Industrial Zone back on track

5:34 pm on 11 June 2013

Following lengthy delays, Papua New Guinea's planned Pacific Marine Industrial Zone in Madang is back on track, after its opponents withdrew their legal action.

The Zone will see up to 10 fish canneries, a port complex and other industrial developments on land around the Madang Lagoon.

Last year, the national court halted the development after customary landowners argued that the development was illegal.

However the case has now been withdrawn.

PNG's Trade, Commerce and Industry Minister, Richard Maru told Johnny Blades that the PMIZ will not just be a marine zone but a fully fledged industrial export processing zone.

RICHARD MARU: The idea behind the industrial marine park was to prevent unprocessed fish from our waters leaving PNG and getting processed in countries like Thailand, who don't even catch any fish there, and the Philippines. We wanted to stop that. We're losing, in terms of export value, up to US$20 billion annually by having fishing vessels which come in and fish our waters under license. When we also sell our fish offshore, unprocessed, we also lose 20,000 to 30,000 jobs, which could be created if we had all the processing done onshore and if we stop issuing licenses in future to fishing companies who don't actually build processing facilities in Papua New Guinea.

JOHNNY BLADES: If the fish is going to be caught in the region, what do the other Pacific Island countries think? If the fish product will be called a Papua New Guinea product, there could be some sovereignty issues.

RM: With the rules of origin these days, as long as the bulk of the producing is done in a country it can be identified as a product of the local country. But for now we are talking about fish that's basically caught in our waters.

JB: Who will run the canneries? Will it be Philippine, like RD Tuna? It won't be local companies at first?

RM: Our view now is any of the investors coming in must have local investors and we want to try and develop this industry.

JB: The local community around the lagoon, some of them have been really unhappy with the plans. They say they're not privy to discussions about it and they're really worried about the environmental effect, of course, of having multiple times what's already there, which they think has already harmed their livelihoods and food.

RM: Well, this is the view they've had, which, really, there's absolutely no basis for that. I used to have the same view myself until I went to the Philippines, and we brought the landowners there to have a look at the fish ports in places like the central city, and there's no evidence of the environment being destroyed as a result of activities there.

JB: But they've already seen damage. They live there in the lagoon and they say that the fish are dying, that they've already seen the mangroves affected, so they've seen the evidence.

RM: Well, that's news to me. I've been in meetings with the locals and I've not heard this. Where are you getting this from?

JB: I've been told by the people who live around the lagoon. They ought to know.

RM: I've just had a meeting with them on Sunday and they've all been blaming the government for holding up the project, and they wanted to sign yesterday. I don't know who this was, but it's certainly not what the leaders are telling us.