25 Nov 2013

New Caledonia representative marks one year in New Zealand

5:48 pm on 25 November 2013

In an effort to improve ties with New Zealand and the Pacific in general, New Caledonia has for the past year had a representative in Wellington.

Yves Lafoy, who is with the French embassy, is trying to facilitate links in a range of areas, from politics to science.

Although New Caledonia is closer to New Zealand than Australia, Fiji or Tonga, tourist numbers from New Zealand are small.

YVES LAFOY: We have more New Caledonian citizens spending holidays in New Zealand, rather than the opposite. And one of the explanations is that the cost of living in New Caledonia is quite high, especially for Kiwis and Aussies. But if you live in New Caledonia, if you work in New Caledonia, this high cost of living is adjusted through wages which are quite high. So, yeah, the cost of living is high, the air fares are not cheap, but I think for New Caledonia to be sold in New Zealand you really have - that's my personal opinion and I'm working on that - you really have to send a package and say 'This is a piece of France in the Pacific. You've got the gastronomy, you've got the culture, but it's also part of the Pacific region and you've got a fantastic environment'. Because, as you might be aware, New Caledonia is registered on the World Heritage list. And it's got the second largest lagoon in the world after the Great Barrier. So we've got a lot of things to promote and sell, but unfortunately we're not very good at marketing, and marketing in English. So there are a few aggravating factors, I would say, which unfortunately impede this tourism exchange with New Zealand. But we're working on that. And I've got regular meetings with the New Caledonia tourism, based in Auckland, and also Air Caledonie International, to try to promote New Caledonia in New Zealand.

WALTER ZWEIFEL: You mentioned the high cost of things in New Caledonia. This is a major concern for a lot of people in New Caledonia. THere have been intermittent strong protests about this with concessions in terms of lowering tariffs in relationship to New Zealand, as well. How has that translated into boosting exports from New Zealand, given that there seems to be preferential access for some goods that used to be taxed highly?

YVES LAFOY: Unfortunately, New Caledonia is still a very highly protected market and still quite open to the European market. So we have a lot of goods coming from the European Union - France, but also the EU. But for example New Zealand is providing New Caledonia with 84% of dairy products. So we are very demanding on New Zealand products in the dairy sector. But the reciprocity of New Caledonia sending stuff or selling stuff to New Zealand is quite difficult. So we have a few niches, like for example squash, we've got very good prawns, farmed prawns. But they are very, very limited niches and I think the only chance for New Caledonia to export either to Australia or to New Zealand is to find produce of excellence, otherwise we'll be in competition with Fiji or other countries in the Pacific who have much cheaper labour costs.