Thursday, September 20, 2012

Inefficient handling in solving bird’s nest ban

Since July 2011, when China banned imports of bird’s nest from Malaysia, both Noh Omar and Chua Tee Yong have been working under a cloak of secrecy on the draft protocol.
By Chua Jui Meng
I was surprised by Chinese vernacular newspaper reports that the draft protocol to be signed between Malaysia and China to lift the more than year-long ban on bird’s nest exports will not require any radio frequency identification (RFID) system.
Both Agriculture and Agro-Based Minister Noh Omar and his deputy Chua Tee Yong appear to be backtracking on the issue.
Both had been very insistent on the mandatory installation of RFID tags on boxes of bird’s nest exported by Malaysia.
They had also gone on record, telling the media that it was China’s demand to have the RFID clause in the protocol.
Now that China has signed protocols with Indonesia and Thailand without such a clause, Noh and Tee Yong have been exposed as deviously lying on their draft protocol.
They have been distorting the issues to suit their agenda. The truth will prevail when the contents of the protocol are made public after the signing tomorrow.
Noh and Tee Yong’s attempt to force bird’s nest exporters and traders in Malaysia to use RFID tags was probably thwarted by the protocols signed by Indonesia and Thailand with China that did not require any costly RFID tags, bar code or QS system for exports of bird’s nest to China.
Noh and Tee Yong must start observing some transparency on their protracted attempts to have China lift the ban on bird’s nest exports from Malaysia.
Since July 2011, when China banned imports of bird’s nest from Malaysia, both Noh and Tee Yong have been working under a cloak of secrecy on the draft protocol.
Why are Noh and Tee Yong not observing transparency in the measures that they want to take, implement or enforce to have the ban lifted?
They are now trying to sign the protocol but the aggrieved traders and farmers do not know its actual contents.
Are not the input of some 100,000 swiftlet farm houses and traders nationwide crucially relevant?
Noh and Tee Yong are behaving as if they are more knowledgeable than the industry players. Or are they just seizing the opportunities from the ban to come up with regulations to corner the bird’s nest market and industry?
Are they looking after the interests of middlemen and cronies who are given export licence? Are the monopolistic measures aimed at grabbing a giant’s share of Malaysia’s bird’s nest exports, estimated to be worth RM2 billion annually?

Secret protocol
Noh and Tee Yong’s “secret protocol” has naturally given rise to bird’s nest traders and operators’ suspicions of a hidden agenda.
China imposed the ban after it found high levels of nitrate in bird’s nests from Malaysia. It was the work of unscrupulous and greedy traders who exported the tainted and fake bird’s nests to China. In any industry, there are bad apples.
Why are Noh and Chua bent on clamping down on the bird’s nest industry players? The industry had been thriving for decades without such a protocol, why now the need for a stringent one?
Indonesia and Thailand have already signed protocols with China and are resuming bird’s nest exports to China but we are still feuding over Noh and Chua’s insistence on having a tracking and tracing system.
Why can’t Malaysia just sign a protocol similar to Indonesia and Thailand’s with China and be done with the ban?
Noh and Tee Yong must explain clearly and convincingly their real intention for initially wanting a protocol with a clause for mandatory installation of RFID tags.
History had shown that greedy middlemen, backed by those in power, would zoom into multi-billion-ringgit industries to grab a slice of the cake.
They usually achieve this through devious ways, like introducing regulations that restrict free trade and measures that create opportunities for economic monopoly.
If Noh and Tee Yong were sincere in wanting to help lift the ban imposed by China, they would have acted swiftly and not allowed the deadlock to last until today.
They would have used Malaysia’s good bilateral and diplomatic relations to get the ban lifted. They claim to have excellent relations with China, what happened?
According to the protocols signed by Indonesia and Thailand with China, all that are required for bird’s nests to be exported to China is that the packaging and labelling of the products carry the product name, weight, company name, address and registration number of processing establishment, product storage condition and date of manufacture.
Of course these are in addition to domestic approvals and licences issued by the various health and regulating authorities, all with potential to discriminate and give cronies the edge in the industry.
Both Noh and Tee Yong must be held responsible should the industry collapse due to their inefficient handling or failure to resolve the ban swiftly.
The majority of bird’s nest farmers will protest against the government for going ahead with a protocol that is against their interest and welfare.
Many had borrowed money from financial institutions to build swiftlet houses in Malaysia and their investments were now in jeopardy.
The writer is a PKR vice-president and Johor PKR chief. He is also a former MCA vice-president and ex-Health Minister.

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