By MALUM NALU
The liquefied natural gas project could have disastrous implications for Papua New Guinea’s coffee industry, according to Coffee Industry Corporation economist Kessy Kufinale.
He said this at a workshop last Friday focusing on the impact of LNG on the PNG economy, with particular reference to agriculture.
In an apparent reference to the dreaded “Dutch Disease”, where a mineral boom leads to an appreciation of the exchange rate, Kufinale said this appreciation would negatively impact on kina export revenue for coffee.
He painted the scenario of a 10% appreciation in kina against the US dollar from 0.339 - 0.3729.
“Given price 100 US cents per pound, results in a loss of K35 million, 10% of total coffee revenue,” Kufinale said.
“Any change in the export price always affects the producers, not middle men.
“A combination of lower export prices and appreciated exchange rate could spell disaster for our agricultural export industries.
“Our export products will become dearer, hence, less competitive on the world markets.
“Agricultural export producers are currently enjoying high prices and a fall in price will result in more plantations, especially, going out of business.”
Apart from ‘Dutch Disease’, Kufinale said the coffee industry was already losing a significant portion of its skilled labour force to LNG.
“Coffee exporters and plantations have reported that they have lost workers to LNG,” he said.
“This creates skills gap within these organisations.
“To retain skilled workers would add to their already high labour costs.”
Kufinale said major freighting companies operating along the Highlands Highway were shifting to service the LNG and neglecting the long-established coffee industry.
“Smaller coffee exporters, especially nationals, are resorting to small private truck operators, despite the higher risks this entails,” he said.
Kufinale said the port facility in Lae was unable to handle increased traffic.
“Delayed shipments due to congestion is potentially damaging to PNG’s reputation as a reliable supplier of coffee,” he said.
Kufinale said appropriate fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies needed to in place to mitigate these negative impacts on the competitiveness and sustainability of PNG’s agricultural export commodities
“LNG windfall revenues must be invested in agriculture, particularly in areas like infrastructure development; rehabilitation and expansion; quality improvement; freight subsidy; and research and extension.
“Investments in the agriculture sector that have had significant impact on the lives of our rural citizens abound.
“Use these as guides to invest windfall LNG revenues if our economy and its people are to be continued to be sustained long after LNG is gone.”