By Gary Hatigeva
FINANCE Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare yesterday accepted a courtesy visit from a high level delegation team of experts and top officials from the Cosmo group of Companies, a giant player in the Japanese economy.
The meeting heard information about the potentials Solomon Islands food products in the areas of Agriculture and other related areas have for markets abroad.
Headquartered in Dubai, the company is looking to open up the United Arab Emirates market to Solomon Islands, highlighting the high quality Solomon’s local food products have to offer in that part of the world.
Company representatives, Satofumi Kawata who is the Representative Director of Cosmo Company and Tomokatsu Ichikawa, the Senior Manager Head of Business Development, accompanied by local supporting staff came with the mission to get the national government’s support in implementing this export initiative, which looks to involve a number of players in the local economy.
The Finance Minister was told that based on recommendations, they thought that export products from Solomon Islands to UAE may have greater potentials.
When asked about Japan’s market potentials, the group explained they are also checking for opportunities to export direct from Solomon Islands to Japan, but Japan is quite a matured market, where the size is big but very mature market.
“On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates is a very fast growing market so it may be easier to find opportunities there in UAE.
The group representatives also pointed out that with identified higher qualities in most of its resources compared to other providers, they are confident Solomon Islands products can make a long life span in the international market.
“We came here one week ago and throughout our stay here, we found that the quality of products in Solomon Islands is very good, very high, but it could not be explained very well, something we will try to ensure it is highlighted and made known,” the Representative Director further explained.
He added that in the United Arab Emirate now, 100 percent of the food products are imported, while Japan relies on 70 percent on imported food.
This is a clear indication that a lot of these big markets will need small states llike Solomon Islands seeon as they are short of food.
“Here (SI), the country is rich in marine resources, and land is still usable (mass access to land for production of food) and population growth here is also very small having compared to the resources.
“So it means Solomon Islands could be a reliable and continuous exporter of food to the outside world. It is according to our analysis, is one of the great potential countries in the world.
“So to utilize the potential capacity, the initial support in the investment on local producers is very important and the government need to see this now,” Kawata added.
“Tuna, Cocoa, Coconut and Ngalinut should be differentiated appropriately in its quality then and only then, we can enjoy premium and Solomon Islands has that,” Mr. Satofumi Kawata explained.
Meanwhile, the group highlighted this kind of initiative does not come easy and cheap as there are so many challenges and downside facing them, which requires the government’s support.
The initiative is looking to use existing but small scale exporters and commercial food producers Solomon Islands whom the group felt are being disadvantaged in a many areas.
The meeting also heard that these local companies will play big roles in this initiative and need the right kind of support to push their capacities when producing to meet targets and demands.
“I think what the government can do is firstly, take initiative so that different sectors and different companies can collaborate with each other and secondly, may be some support to the initial investment in the areas of machineries or infrastructure,” Mr. Kawata explained when asked where the Solomon government can support.
“Another challenge is logistics because if the amount is limited, with a high transport cost, it is obviously be a loss and that too could damage the competitiveness of the product especially for the outside export market.
“So ones we start to increase the volume of export, the cost will go down and everything will be competitive and that would rely heavily on the ground works, which needs a swift backing of the national government.”
Mr. Kawata however stressed that currently, their team needs some support from the private sector to initiate good samples to take back for sampling and testing.
He said the group up their return to Japan, they will look to discuss ways to how they can also support this initial stage of the export from their end.
“We came here to identify the products to be exported from Solomon Islands UAE (Trying to open up way for Exports to UAE through our company)
The group visited Soltuna, National Fishing Development (NFD), Coconut Pacific, ADRA for Cocoa export and SolFish.
In a short but sharp respond, the Finance Minister assured the group of the government’s willingness to support and ensure this initiative eventuates.
He said this initiative will have a direct impact on the owners of the resources relevant for exports and knowing that they will have direct benefits, they will definitely jump it and that is something he said the government looks forward to initiate and support.
“I think the government is very actively supporting the similar initiatives and knowing land is an issue in Solomon Islands where they are owned by the people it has always been a challenge for the government as well, but if we ask them to do something, they would want to see how they will benefit from it so are pumping in financial resources into the rural areas but it is not properly organizing the areas we are targeting for the export marketing.
“That is because we are not sure about the right markets but if there is market here now, that will change the whole picture and how we think of these products,” the Finance Minister explained when giving his response remarks during the meeting.
The group has collected samples which were sent over to their headquarters in UAE yesterday, with the intention to show the samples to the people there and get feedback and maybe do further investigations and testing for actual potential products for export.
The Cosmo Group of Company through its Energy Holdings establishment has been an active participant in the development of Solomon Islands and was awarded a medal of honour for its role in promoting Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Agriculture by establishing an agriculture training centre and providing financial support for the training courses.