Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Hon. Manasseh Sogavare,
Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives from the Private Sector,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here today to sign the newest version of the Melanesian Spearhead Group Free Trade Agreement – an agreement that stands as a culmination of the vision first set out by the Leaders during Fiji’s chairmanship of the MSG in 2011.
Over the past 24 years, the economic partnerships among our countries have brought greater prosperity to our region and afforded enormous economic opportunity to all our people. This third review of our agreement marks a new era for the MSG. It will lay down a solid economic foundation suited to address a number of emerging challenges we face and allow us to build on the rapid growth and deep integration we have achieved among MSG countries.
I would like to begin by giving a big vinaka vakalevu to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare for the Solomon Islands’ leadership as our current Chair. Thank you for everything you have done to transform the MSG into a vehicle of economic development and progress for our people, and for carrying on the legacy Fiji set out during our term as Chair.
During our own chairmanship, I called for economic co-operation and understanding among MSG countries that matched the strong political ties we have always shared –to better serve our citizens by knocking down barriers to the movement of trade, investment and our people, and set an example of regional growth and development for every nation in the Pacific.
I’m very pleased that in the years that followed, the MSG has lived up to the ambitious potential I believed we were capable of realising. From 2010 to 2014, the annual total trade value between us grew by 114 per cent to $169 million, and over the last five years, trade between Fiji and MSG countries has grown by 73 per cent to $143.4 million.
We are a model in the Pacific, we have made flows of goods, services and resources more efficient and more reliable and we are all rising high on the same tide of economic achievement. In the Melanesian way, we have harnessed each of our strengths, worked side by side in mutual trust and respect, and done well by each other and for each other. And the benefits of our accomplishments are experienced everyday by the men and women we are proud to represent and all work so hard to serve.
It is vital that we maintain the steady pace of progress we enjoy today. It is vital that we make adjustments to remain competitive and continue to find ways to improve our relationships, to deepen our ties and create economic links to take intra-MSG trade to even greater heights.
I’m proud to say that after two years of dedicated effort, we have achieved that today. Our re-negotiated agreement is stronger, clearer, more accommodating and more co-operative than ever before. It better capitalizes on the vast knowledge and experiences that each one of us brings to the table, and it guarantees a more prosperous future for all our Melanesian brothers and sisters.
This new Agreement will be the first time that Fiji is making commitments in services and investment under a regional trade agreement. That is because we believe in the citizens of each of our countries and we believe in our collective potential. The trust and the faith we place in our fellow MSG countries is unrivalled. In a very real sense, we are making history. Though we are small nations, we are seizing the opportunity to control our own collective destiny as much as we can—to advance by our own efforts, by the strength of our own will, and by the power and ingenuity of our own people. So we have a right to be extremely proud of that commitment.
Looking forward, there are some crucial next steps that must be taken before we can fully integrate our economies and work together as efficiently as possible. Under our current agreement, Fiji led the way liberalising our goods market for MSG countries, with PNG and Vanuatu following suit. We look forward to the Solomon Islands joining us as well, so that goods can flow freely across our borders and our people can all enjoy competitive pricing, greater exports and greater selection of goods and services within our economies. And we stand at the ready to offer support to the Solomons during this transition.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our new agreement says very clearly that the MSG is the strongest, the most unified and the most capable we have ever been. We can never be certain of what is to come, but united behind this agreement, I can say confidently that the MSG will be ready for whatever challenges we have yet to face. Ready to bring greater prosperity into the lives of our people and ready to carry all of us into a more successful future.
Thank you to all of our MSG countries for your steadfast friendship, and your commitment to our region and to Fiji. I look forward to working with each of you under this new trade agreement.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.