Pacific export revenue returns to pre-pandemic levels 

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The Pacific island region’s export industry has recovered its pre-pandemic-level performance, posting a 49 percent revenue increase in 2023, which was twice the growth rate recorded in 2022, according to the 2024 Pacific Islands Export Survey report. 

“Pacific exporters are increasingly selling to both international and local markets throughout the Pacific, with more than 64 percent citing this dual market approach compared to 48 percent when the survey began in 2014,” states the report released by the Pacific Trade Invest Network. 

Tess Newton Cain, a Pacific analyst with PTI, said the survey outcome indicated that Pacific businesses are “extremely optimistic about the next 12 months,” noting that 78 percent are expecting an increase in export revenue over the coming year. 

The survey marked the highest confidence level among respondents since tracking began after Covid, Cain said. 

PTI is a trade and investment promotion agency, with offices in Australia, China, Europe and New Zealand. 

“One-third of businesses have contacted Pacific Trade Invest for assistance, a rate that has been steadily increasing over the past four years,” Cain wrote in the report. 

Sugar from Fiji, palm oil from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, and processed fish from American Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji are among the Pacific island region’s top exports. 

PTI has been tasked by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to facilitate trade, investment and tourism deals between the economies of the Pacific island countries and territories and the rest of the world.  

“As in previous years, businesses are bolstering their growth by prioritizing process improvements and efficiencies,” Cain said. “Additionally, this year has seen a notable increase in those encouraging innovation through staff training and hiring, with 40 percent of businesses citing this as an initiative compared to 23 percent in 2022.” 

Cain said data indicated the Pacific island region’s ongoing recovery from the impact of Covid-19 with mixed results. 

“Overall, export revenue has increased markedly, by 49 percent, bringing it back to pre-pandemic levels. Exports to Europe and North America have increased since 2022 and have returned to pre-Covid levels,” the report said.’ 

“However, while exports to China have increased since 2022 (from 9 percent to 12 percent), they are still well down on the 2020 figures for that market (18 percent).” 

According to a 2022 report prepared by DT Global Australia PTY Ltd. for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the global pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to domestic and international trade in the Pacific island region. 

Pacific export analysts noted that the Covid crisis coincided with outbreaks of two serious pests and diseases – the African swine fever and the fall army worm. 

“Restrictions on the movement of people and goods have impacted the capacity of (Pacific island countries) to export agricultural products, particularly perishable produce through both formal/commercial and informal marketing pathways to diaspora communities,” states the Pacific Export Context Analysis. 

“Shipping services, important for root crop exports from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have been reduced, and costs have soared. Restrictions on the internal movement of goods at times limited their ability to assemble shipments,” the report said. 

Air freight rates also soared during the period of lockdowns and in the recovery period. 

At PTI, Cain said the 78 percent confidence level has flow-on effects, such as an increase in expectation of hiring new staff in the next year. 

“In addition, 71 percent of businesses plan to expand into new export markets within the next three years,” Cain said. 

However, she noted that Pacific exporters continue to face barriers to exporting, such as access to finance and labor challenges. 

“Given what we are learning elsewhere about the impacts of labor mobility programs in sending countries, this will likely be more significant in the future,” Cain said.