Tahitian president creates government ministry for pearls

French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse has set up an entirely new government structure to better control the production and exportation of the Tahiti cultured pearl, this country’s biggest revenue earner after tourism.

President Flosse’s moves are aimed at rebuilding worldwide confidence among pearl wholesalers by boosting the price of the Tahitian pearl and make it even more popular among fine jewelers and the worlds of haute couture fashion, celebrities and entertainment, including the worlds of films, television, and music.

For the first time in the more than 25-year history of the Tahiti cultured pearl, the French Polynesia government has a ministry devoted to nothing but the pearl and its overall well-being. And the minister of the Tahitian Pearl Ministry is President Flosse, who has decided the time has arrived to put Tahiti’s gem back on track toward conquering the world.

The government’s Council of Ministers discussed on March 14 several measures to increase the pearl’s worldwide selling price by insuring that only the highest quality Tahitian pearls reach the marketplace.

President Flosse’s government proposed the following to the Polynesia Assembly:

* Revising the present official pearl quality classification chart by upgrading the ”D” quality classification in order to enlarge the official ”reject” category so that a maximum amount of inferior quality Tahiti cultured pearls are prohibited from being exported.

* Establishing an official thickness of the nacre, or mother-of-pearl, coating that covers the nucleus of each pearl in order to completely eliminate all immature pearls from reaching the marketplace.

* Even more strict and efficient customs controls at the Tahiti-Faa’a International Airport in order to insure that no reject quality pearls are leaving the country.

The objectives of this effort are to reassure the Japanese market, the world’s biggest for the Tahitian pearl, that every effort will be made to keep the value of Tahiti’s gem at the highest possible level, say Tahitian officials. To convince the worldwide market for Tahitian pearls that inferior quality pearls will be declared illegal for export. And to help justify higher prices paid for exported pearls of good to excellent quality.

”The new classification chart and reinforced export controls must be aimed not only at reassuring the Japanese, but also the rest of the world market,” President Flosse said.

Martin Coeroli, Perles de Tahiti general manager added: ”Everything must be done to return confidence to the international pearl wholesalers and pearl dealers and support the Tahitian pearl’s deluxe brand image.”

In addition to starting the Tahitian Pearl Ministry, President Flosse also created the government’s Tahitian Pearl Department and named Jean Marie Colombani, an experienced government official, to head it up.

The latest government initiatives on behalf of the pearl industry came on the heels of the 6th Annual Tahiti Pearl Producers International Auction held in Tahiti Feb. 24-25. The auction sold 130,994 pearls divided up into 132 lots for about $4.54 million.

Overall, the auction’s 37 unsold lots, involving 63,847 pearls, and an average price of about $22.39 per gram raised industry and international concern about the potential success of this year’s two remaining auctions in Tahiti. There is the second United Pearl Producers Auction from June 9-10 and the 24th Poe Rava Nui International Auction from Oct. 26-27.

The Tahitian pearl industry requested that President Flosse and the government directly intervene with measures aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of this industry, which provides French Polynesia with its biggest source of export revenue.

Last year was the third consecutive year that the value of Tahiti’s exported pearl products (from nacre and loose cultured pearls to articles of pearls) set a new record. Those exported pearl products had an overall value of $165.7 million, a 13% increase over the previous record set in 1999 of $168.2 million, according to French Polynesia Government’s Statistical Institute of French Polynesia based on export statistics provided by the government’s Customs Department.

The 11.7 tons of taxable exported pearl products last year generated $14.4 million in collectable customs taxes, half of which goes to the French Polynesia government. That was 11% more than the 10.5 tons of taxable exported pearl products in 1999 that produced $15.1 million in tax revenue.

Collected taxes totalling $7.2million in 2000 goes to Perles de Tahiti, the trade association created in late 1993 for the overseas promotion of Tahitian pearls and their byproducts. A tax of about $1.24 is applied to all exported loose pearls, keshi, worked pearls, worked keshi, and articles of pearls.