Unlimited commercial kava export trial to Australia gets nod

Zed Seselja at the Lami Kava facility. File photo.

Kava exporters from the Pacific Islands can now export an unlimited amount of kava to Australia for commercial purposes, under Phase 2 of Australia’s Kava Pilot program.

Launching Phase 2 in Canberra yesterday in the presence of Pacific heads of missions there, Australia’s Minister for International Development and Pacific, Senator Zed Seselja said Australia understood the importance of kava to the Pacific.

“It brings families and friends together.  It’s of huge cultural importance.  It’s also of large economic importance, especially when kava producers have the opportunity to export into markets such as Australia.  That’s why in late 2019, Prime Minister Morrison announced the Kava Pilot. Phase 1: Increase the amount of kava that passengers can bring into Australia from 2kg to 4kg. And now, Phase 2 will allow the commercial importation of kava into Australia.”   

Phase 2 is expected to run for a period of 2 years from December 1, 2021, according to the details available for potential importers on the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

“There is no limit to the amount of kava that can be imported under Phase 2 of the pilot.  Only kava powder and kava beverages (using cold water) can be imported at this stage of the pilot,” it said.

Kava importers will be able to apply for a permit online and there are expectations that response will be huge.

“There’s been a large amount of excitement and interest in the pilot which is great to see.  When I was in Fiji in November, I think I was asked more questions about kava than the rugby. I know that’s because many of you are keen to be involved and also know how the pilot works,” said Seselja.

Seselja visited the Lami Kava production facility just outside Suva when he was in Fiji last month, commissioning an Australian-supported modern wash bay structure and drying machinery.

Lami Kava’s managing director Donny Yee said the facility had increased the volume of green kava they can process, and welcomed the (then-imminent) easing of restrictions on kava exports to Australia.

Producer support

“To help you with the application process, officials will host a series of Information sessions also starting 1 December (2021).  Further guidance and factsheets will also be available online. Officials will work as quickly as they can to process your applications. I’ll ask you to be patient as they’ll respond to a high levels of interest.  We are hopeful that if we all work together, kava will begin to flow into Australia from the commercial pilot from early next year.  I think we’ll all get together for another celebration when that happens,” Seselja said yesterday.

Momentum has been building up for the Kava Pilot Phase 2, which essentially ends Australia’s kava ban imposed over a decade ago in 2007, when it tightened its import restrictions on kava, claiming it was abused in Aboriginal communities and causing health problems there.

In welcoming this resumption of commercial importation of kava, ASX-listed FijiKava Ltd said the 2007 year ban has had negative cultural impacts on Pacific Island communities in Australia and caused lost revenue in businesses in the Pacific Islands, including Fiji.

“Estimates of the economic impact in the Pacific due to the drinking kava ban in Australia in 2007 range from A$10-30 million dolars per annum,” said CEO Anthony Noble last month, in an announcement on ASX.

“The Morrison Government’s decision to reverse this ban will deliver immediate benefits to these economies that exceed those losses, since the number of Fijian and Pacific diaspora in Australia has grown significantly since then.  Since Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged these changes in 2019, there has been great anticipation in the community of this framework coming into force.  In the years since 2007 when the ban was put into place, there have been significant advances around the safe and responsible use of kava. Most notable is the Codex Alimentarius Commission approving a standard for kava products last year, specifying that only Noble kava varieties be used and mandating water-based processes for producing kava beverages.”  

FijiKava is expected to roll out its drinking kava products into retail outlets in Australia by early next year, according to Noble.