Thursday August 21, 2014 - 9:23 am | Login

Lifting the de-facto EU ‘ban’ on kava

“This is another step in the right direction for Vanuatu and other Pacific kava producing countries,” says Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Micky Joy.

The following is a press statement from the Vanuatu Embassy in Brussels.

On the basis of alleged claims of liver toxicity of kava extracts, the marketing authorisations of kava-extract containing products were suspended and withdrawn in Germany through three decisions, the last one adopted in 2007, of the BundesinstitutfuerArzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (“BfArM”), the German regulatory authority responsible for the monitoring of risks related to medicinal products. The measures, which resulted in a de facto “ban” on kava-based medicinal products, have severely affected the ability of the kava-exporting Pacific Islands Countries to export kava to the whole of the European Union (“the EU”). A number of other European Countries, in fact, followed Germany and imposed similar measures.

As a result, imports of kava from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu to the EU virtually stopped in 2001, after having reached their peak in 2000. The commercial impact of this measure has been devastating to the traders and the economies of the entire Pacific Islands’ communities. Starting in 2001 up to date, the loss in trade accounts to over 200 million USD per year for the producers of the four Pacific Islands alone. This astronomical figure (i.e., over 2 billion USD in the period) does not take into account the much greater loss incurred by the communities, the broader economy of each island, and the missed opportunities in terms of further growth and development.

At a recent Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting on the ACP/ EU EPA negotiations held in Papua New Guinea in August of this year, the Ambassador of Vanuatu to the European Union tabled a proposal on the Kava issue, particularly the proposed scientific study being pursued through the ACP MTS, which received overwhelming political support and endorsement from the Minister’s. The Minister’s further called on the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to assist the Pacific Kava producing States in this important process.

The German and EU measures, whether de jure or de facto, appear to present several profiles of inconsistency with the World Trade Organisation’s (“the WTO”) rules. In particular, such measures do not appear justified as measures necessary to protect human life or health under the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and, by resulting in a de facto restriction or prohibition on agricultural imports from other WTO Members (i.e., Fiji, Tonga and soon Vanuatu and Samoa) made effective through the withdrawal of marketing authorisations, Germany’s (and the EU’s) measures appear to be in violation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Agreement on Agriculture, and the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures. Such measures appear discriminatory, not proportionate and not based on scientific principles and justifications.

Vanuatu will become a WTO Member at the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2011. The Government of Vanuatu is convinced that WTO Membership will be beneficial to its People and will allow it to use all the instruments and negotiating fora of this important organization to promote and protect its commercial interests, including in relation to kava. WTO Members’ policies and actions must pay tribute to the needs of Pacific and of Developing Countries like Vanuatu. The EU and its Member States must address the issue of the kava “ban” and allow us to regain access to its market. Vanuatu, and the rest of the Pacific, needs and deserves to regain its trading opportunities and legitimate market access to the EU.

Kava trade must be at the centre of each of the ongoing discussions between the kava-exporting Pacific Countries and the EU. It must also be the focus of technical, scientific and regulatory developments within the Pacific that will improve the quality, safety and marketability of kava worldwide. The kava-producing Pacific Countries, with Vanuatu in primis, stand ready to work with the EU and individual EU Member Countries such as Germany to resolve any scientific, health, quality, standardisation and trade issue that may be hampering trade in kava. To this end, an important breakthrough has recently been achieved in Brussels, within the confines of the ACP Group under the leadership of our Ambassador to the European Union, the Kingdom of Belgium, France and the United Kingdom His Excellency Mr Roy Mickey Joy.

The recent development
A new project of dedicated technical assistance has been launched by the Brussels-based ACP MTS Programme to help Pacific kava-producing Countries to address the scientific, regulatory and trade issues related to kava. This project has been requested and structured under the leadership of the Government of Vanuatu, but its beneficiaries will be Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. These four Countries are committed to ensuring the highest degree of kava quality and conclusively establishing whether the product has any effect on human health as claimed by some importing Countries.

Pacific Countries want to ensure that kava meets the importing Countries’ health and safety standards, in accordance with the WTO Agreements on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Health and safety are legitimate objectives of all Countries, but cannot become or result de jure or de facto trade impediments. The Pacific kava-producing Countries intend to comply with all legitimate and reasonable import requirements, but will use the scientific and regulatory results of this project to then reclaim full market access to the EU, if need be by triggering the available WTO dispute settlement procedures.

The four specific results that this new technical assistance project mandates the consultants to achieve are the following:
1. Officials in the Pacific kava-growing Countries are made aware of the need to adhere to SPS/TBT requirements and quality standards in order to boost kava exports;
2. The establishment of a system of controlled origins of kava by holding a brainstorming workshop to define a road-map for scientific studies for the establishment of safe kava qualities in accordance with SPS/TBT compatible standards;
3. To develop such draft SPS standards for the Pacific kava-producing Countries to seek their approval by “Codex Alimentarius”; and
4. To ensure that all scientific inputs and results of the project are put in a trade context and compliant with WTO requirements, obligations and rights.
In simpler terms, the purposes of this new technical assistance project are, firstly, to establish scientific evidence to ensure that the required quality and safety standards of kava are met in order to comply with the SPS/TBT requirements of importing Countries and, secondly, to encourage the Countries of the Pacific region to establish a system of traceable origins. More specifically, the project aims at reviewing all existing scientific and regulatory literature on kava and to propose standardized protocols for further studies in the following areas: 1)Analysis of traditional aqueous kava beverages specifications; 2) Enzymatic studies; 3) Toxicological studies; 4) Hepatotoxic studies; 5) Ethnobotanical studies; 6) Cultivar identification; 7) Technical specifications; and 8) WTO contextualization.

On a parallel front, the Vanuatu Delegation attending the next ACP/ EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly [ JPA] in Lome, Republic of Togo in West Arica from the 17th to 22 November 2011 will be tabling a paper on the EU Kava Ban to the Joint Parliamentarians as part of the information sharing process, while the Kava study is being pursued in the Pacific region.

The findings of the literature reviews and scientific recommendations derived from the specific activities of the project, together with the legal briefs dealing with the international trade component, will be presented during a four-day workshop to be held in Port-Vila, Vanuatu in early 2012 (probably in March). This workshop will cater to producers, regulators, traders and Government officials within the Pacific region. A High-Level Conference will also be organized so that Pacific leaders will be able to assess the results of the consultancy and determine the most appropriate courses of action on the political, commercial and diplomatic fronts.