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There’s a storm brewing over the Pacific as the region’s kava industry watches a gradually unfolding situation in the North Queensland city of Bundaberg.

Known more for its sugar cane and famous rum, the city has found itself at the centre of a storm which may be more than a tempest in a kava bowl.

Bundaberg’s Mayor, Jack Dempsey, recently apologised to the descendants of 62,000 South Sea Islanders taken from Vanuatu and other Pacific islands to provide labour for cane farms in the 1800s. Slave traders, known as ‘Blackbirders’, would entrap or entice islanders to work on the vast plantations under terrible conditions.

As part of the apology, Bundaberg signed a “Sister City” agreement with Luganville in Vanuatu.

Dempsey said the partnership was designed to promote cultural and commercial ties. “We’ll look at all areas from agriculture to tourism to safety … from a council perspective looking at their water and sewerage and so forth,” he told ABC news.

Vanuatu’s agriculture industry revolves mainly around coffee, premium beef exports and kava. At some stage in discussions and interviews, mention was made of the possibility of kava being grown in Queensland from material made available by Vanuatu. The reaction from the Pacific was swift.

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