Trade expert Bonapas Onguglo outlines where Papua New Guinea could be missing opportunities


Papua New Guinean Bonapas Onguglo has been working as a trade analyst at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) since 1984, advising African governments how to expand their economies. He sees new opportunities in agribusiness and the ‘ocean economy’.

Trade analyst Bonapas Onguglo

Onguglo sees many parallels between African nations and Papua New Guinea, which, he says, could draw on African success stories, particularly in agriculture.

PNG could develop its agriculture sector by creating new products specifically designed for exports.

At a practical level that would mean developing and promoting the clean, green nature of PNG’s organic agricultural products.

The seas around PNG also have huge potential, he says, if viewed as ‘an ocean economy’.

‘What that means is not just make sustainable use of fish in the exclusive economic zones, but to develop other activities like coastal-based tourism, offshore wind farming, or marine biotechnology.

‘The proposal becomes even more interesting if PNG joins forces with other Pacific island countries to form a regional seas policy area,’ he says.

Story continues after advertisment...


For many Europeans, PNG is an exotic country, says Onguglo.

‘People who don’t know much, if anything, about PNG ask about the people, the food, the environment and politics.

‘They are always amazed at the time it takes to go from Europe to PNG (more than 22 hours flying time). They also cannot believe when I tell them that we have over 800 languages and as many, or more, dialects. They always ask how this is possible on a small island.’

‘Onguglo wants more Papua New Guineans to live overseas.’

Born in Goroka, Onguglo’s parents, Peter and Anna Dinbi, are from Kerowagi in Simbu Province. It’s a place he brings his European friends to visit.

‘They love the place. Once we took a British couple to my mum’s village in Kerowagi. They saw a sing-sing group.

‘Another time we took a French woman to Kerowagi. She also travelled the Highlands Highway to Madang.

‘She loved the experience. My daughter also had her friends visit on a number of occasions.’

Positive experience

Equally, Onguglo wants more Papua New Guineans to live overseas, ‘because it tends to be a positive experience overall.’

‘I believe in inter-cultural exchanges to develop solidarity, harmony and understanding among peoples because ultimately we live on one small planet in one solar system, in one galaxy.’

‘PNG independence day is celebrated in Brussels and the UK.’

He looks to the next generation to expand networks between PNG and Europe.

As well as an annual mumu in Germany, PNG independence day is celebrated in Brussels and the UK.

He notices on his two-yearly trips home the changes taking place in Port Moresby and Lae—coffee houses, fashion and clothing stores are opening up.


Onguglo says his experiences in Africa show the potential for creative Papua New Guineans to showcase their culture internationally.

‘I was involved in organising a Kenyan fashion show that enabled local fashion houses and designers to exhibit ecologically and ethically chic fashion. It was a major hit at an UNCTAD conference in Nairobi in July 2016,’ he says.

‘He joined the United Nations in 1984.’

Onguglo was educated at Mount Hagen Primary School and Hagen Park High School, then earned an honours degree in economics at the University of PNG, and then won a Fulbright scholarship to go to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

There, he obtained a master of arts, majoring in international economics.

He joined the United Nations in 1984 as part of a drive to recruit young professionals from under-represented member countries. PNG was one such country at the time—and still is today, he remarks.

‘We (my wife, Paula Kate, also from Kerowagi) found Switzerland difficult at first as it was a (partly) French-speaking country.

‘It made it hard to integrate. Also it was, and is still, expensive. And it was far away from our families in PNG. But we enjoyed—and still enjoy—the smallness and greenness of Switzerland.’

Leave a Reply