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08 February 2010

FRETILIN Media: Food Import Deal Must be Made Public

FRETILIN Media MEDIA RELEASE Dili, January 29, 2010 - Food import deal must be made public The terms of a controversial business deal to import Chinese fruit and vegetables into Timor-Leste should be made public given its potential to disadvantage local farmers, former Minister for Agriculture and Prime Minister Estanislau da Silva said in Dili today.

Mr Da Silva, a senior MP in FRETILIN, the largest voting bloc in parliament, said he was alarmed by the Chinese company Sino Green Land's media release on January 11, 2010, that it had reached agreement with "local representatives in East Timor" who "have close government relationships and resources that will support our penetration of the local market."

Mr Da Silva said the announcement implied Timor Leste government support for the agreement signed by Mr Anson Fong, President of Sino Green Land and Mr Ted Lay, a Timorese businessman connected to the de facto Gusmao government. The deal drew wide criticism from Opposition and civil society groups concerned it would hamper the development of the country's emerging but promising agricultural sector.

The government responded with a media release on 14 January 2010 claiming that: "The Government was perplexed by a recent media statement distributed globally by a company called Sino Green Land. No member of the Government endorsed, aided, supported, or approved any cooperative agreement with Sino Green Land in tandem with local representatives."

However Mr Da Silva said that an official seven-person delegation from Sino Green Land and 'China Green Food Association' led by Mr Luo Xiong visited Timor-Leste at the invitation of Mr Antonio Maria Hung, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for Economic Development Issues, between 14 and 18 November 2009.

Mr Da Silva said: "the delegation's activities in Dili raise serious doubts about the veracity of the de facto government's media release denying government involvement."

He said the delegation met twice with the Ministry of Agriculture including Secretary of State for Fisheries, Mr Eduardo de Carvalho, and with the two Vice Presidents of Parliament, Mr Vicente Guterres and Ms Maria Paixao. It also met senior public servants including: Mr Fernando Hi da Silva, director to the Minister for Economic Development Joao Goncalves; the Director General of the Ministry of Tourism Commerce and Industry, Ms Manuela Corte Real; Mr Noel Carvalho, the Head of Timor-Leste's Trade and Investment approval body, Tradeinvest Timor-Leste; and Mr Paulo Remedios, a legal advisor in the Office of the President of the Republic.

"In light of Sino Green Land's extensive discussions with government and subsequent deal with a government-favoured businessman, the government's denial of any involvement looks highly dubious."

Mr Da Silva said FRETILIN believes that investment and promotion of local agriculture production to enable import substitution should be a top priority of government. The highland areas of East Timor and its respective microclimate are very suitable for farming a wide variety of horticultural products.

"The Gusmao administration pays lip service to promotion of local agriculture but in practice has been killing our domestic rice producers with heavily state subsidized rice imports which line the pockets of its cronies."

Mr Da Silva said he would refer the Sino Green Land agreement to the parliamentary agriculture committee as well as the committee responsible for trade and investment, to investigate and hold the government accountable for what he termed "this damaging trade and investment fiasco".

For further information please contact Estanislau da Silva on +670 733 5062

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