By NETANI RIKA
VANUATU yaqona (kava) exports to Europe have been dealt a huge blow by a leading scientist.
Dr Mathias Schmidt was a key player in advocacy which led to the lifting of a European Union ban on Pacific yaqona in 2017.
But Schmidt now says he will no longer advocate buying kava from Vanuatu in an effort to protect European importers.
He told the Vanuatu Daily post that the island republic continued to export tudei (two-day) kava despite attempts by Pacific countries to voluntarily stop these exports.
Tudei – which causes consumers to have a two-day hangover after consumption – contains high levels of toxins which cause the hangover and are believed to be responsible for liver damage.
Schmidt said he continued to import kava from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji where there were no two-day varieties.
“I won’t risk the very fragile situation in Germany with the alleged discovery of two-day junk, including peelings instead of noble kava roots in a delivery”, he told Vanuatu Daily Post.
In 2002 the EU placed a ban on Pacific kava because of the two-day variety. Schmidt worked with former Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy and Italian international trade lawyer, Paolo Bergano to convince a German Administrative Court to lift the ban
But Vanuatu two-day kava has resurfaces in Germany where it was first found 16 years ago.
At the time Vanuatu protested that the move was unintentional and wanted to appeal to the World Trade Organisation.
Strict export conditions were placed on Pacific producers by their governments and exporters were warned that quality of their kava must be beyond reproach.
Fiji exporters said they would keep a close watch over the situation.
“This is something we do not need right now,” one exporter said on condition of anonymity.
“It’s really important that we comply with world standards and we work very hard on that. All it takes is one irresponsible, selfish exporter and we all go down.”
Most Pacific countries are putting in place guidelines for kava production and export with the help of the Australian and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Programme.
Schmidt said Vanuatu’s previous defence that its kava export problems were the result of semi-criminal activities was no longer justifiable.
“If anything happens again it will be their responsibility and theirs alone,” he told local reporters.
“Too bad that it will not only hurt the Vanuatu economy again, but also the economy of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
“And by the way, we do not even have to wait for another report of liver failure. Just the proof of presence of bad quality kava will be sufficient to trigger reactions from the EU regulators – and the media”.