23rd November 2006
NZPBC Media Release:
Tongan Reconstruction a New Zealand Priority
The Chairman of the New Zealand Pacific Business Council (NZPBC) has recommended that NZ manufacturers & exporters, as well as importers of Tongan products, offer their maximum co-operation in the rebuilding of the
Nuku’alofa commercial area, which was reportedly 80% devastated last week – which unfortunately, impacts on areas beyond
the capital, especially the tourist spots to the north.
Tourism is a very important source of overseas earnings for Tonga, and widely publicised lawlessness and arson almost
always has a negative effect on in-bound tourism. In this respect, NZ tourists should be aware that many of Tonga’s fine
island resorts (well away from Nuku’alofa), were not affected by the events and are waiting to welcome guests - possibly
now, some at discounted rates.
It is suggested that freight providers and New Zealand suppliers be as flexible as possible on credit terms during the
necessary rebuilding phase. The NZPBC intends to ask that the New Zealand Export Credit Office covers exporters to Tonga
for 85% of the value of their shipments, similar to what had been implemented by Australia during their successful EFIC
export credit assistance in past years. This has greatly grown Australia’s share of trade into Papua New Guinea, the
Solomon Islands and other less stable destinations.
The NZPBC is confident that normal business and trade relations can be restored quite quickly, but only if all parties
in New Zealand and Tonga work together speedily and constructively. The Council recommends that New Zealand design and
project managers, construction companies, manufacturers, wholesalers, and investors look for the many opportunities that
may arise. It is essential that New Zealand be the first to fill what could be a commercial void in the coming weeks
(and even months). In this regard, NZAID should be promptly engaging with New Zealand private enterprise, to get
normality back into the Tongan capital initially, and start on a coordinated program of reconstruction. Perhaps another
initiative could be to look at a special one-off ‘agricultural seasonal work scheme’ for Tongans, which may add urgently
needed remittances and expertise back into Tonga.
This NZ Inc. approach by the New Zealand private sector, and NZ government agencies (including NZAID & the Export Credit Office), should not only restore some stability back into Tonga, but also act as a potent ‘hearts and
minds’ exercise. There are many other countries that would happily step into this unfortunate scene, and take advantage
of the situation for their benefit and advantage – but with no interest in the Tongan culture, society or economy.
New Zealand has shown its ‘rapid response’ capability with the deployment of the New Zealand armed forces and police,
and it would be a pity if this were not supported equally speedily with commercial input. The NZPBC therefore strongly
recommends the formation of a ‘Tonga Taskforce’ to coordinate a rapid response to reconstruction, involving key New
Zealand stakeholders from both Government and the private sector.
The importance of this commercial phase cannot be emphasised enough, because, although it may have an initial business
focus, it also is probably the best way of restoring normality to Tonga, and effectively solving an unwelcome crisis –
which could have the potential to flow-on to other nearby Pacific Island areas.