ICA-AP and the University of Newcastle (UoN), with support from the ICA-EU Partnership on Cooperatives in Development (#Coops4Dev), organised the 2nd ICA-AP Forum on Development of Cooperatives in Pacific Islands on December 12, 2019. Held in New Castle, Australia, the event was a follow-up to the one in Vanuatu in 2018 and aimed to mainstream representation from Pacific cooperatives within the ICA’s development processes.
Themed “Cooperation among Cooperatives and Mutuals in the Asia-Pacific region – working together to achieve a flourishing and sustainable future”, the forum was attended by delegates from academia, cooperative federations and government agencies from Australia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kiribati, and New Zealand. The event saw cooperative apex organisations from Australia, the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM), and New Zealand, the Cooperative Business New Zealand (CBNZ) meet up with stakeholders representing cooperatives in the island nations .
Anthony Taylor, Policy Officer at BCCM, said there are over 2,000 cooperatives in Australia with the top 100 having a turnover of $AU30 billion. However, despite large membership, cooperatives do not have a large market share in consumer/retail markets. Energy is an emerging sector, but there are legislative and policy barriers for community energy, particularly in the retail segment. Cooperatives in Australia actively support women and youth groups.
Kanmari Betiota, Director of the Business Regulatory Centre within the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives in Kiribati, talked about the 11 business sectors covered by cooperatives in the country, with copra-farming and fisheries dominating the space. She highlighted compliance issues, outdated legal frameworks, political interference, and lack of access to international development and capacity building funds as the main challenges.
Roz Henry, CEO at CBNZ, said cooperatives were first set up in New Zealand in 1846. In 2012, the United Nations listed New Zealand as the most cooperative economy. The top 30 cooperatives, mutuals and societies in New Zealand have a total revenue of $NZ 42.3 billion, assets of $33.5 billion, membership of 1.4 million, and employ close to 48,500 individuals.
Faizal Khan, Director and Registrar of Cooperatives in the Department of Cooperative Business, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism in Fiji, talked about the National Cooperative Federation, which was recently established under the Cooperatives Act of 2018. He stressed the need to modernise the Cooperative Act of 1996 and strengthen training curriculum through international accreditations.
Balasubramanian Iyer, Regional Director, ICA-AP, highlighted that cooperatives in the Pacific are rich in history in terms of social mobilisation, culture and norms, and played an important part in national independence and nation building, are drivers in terms of size, members, range, influence, operations, etc. He identified issues such as lack of education, ineffective legal and policy environment, lack of cooperative statistics, and lack of access to finance as the common challenges for cooperatives in the Pacific. The two important and ongoing activities of mapping cooperative actors and legal framework analysis under the ICA-EU Partnership would certainly benefit the stakeholders, he said.
The members in Pacific Island countries were encouraged to undertake needs assessments to identify gaps to strengthen the capacity of primaries to form federations, and promote and develop the federations. ICA-AP can facilitate such an exercise with support from experts and member networks.