The Honourable Fijian Minister for Industry Trade and Tourism,
Your Excellency, the Fijian High Commissioner to New Zealand.
The Chairman and Chief Executive of Investment Fiji,
Members of our respective business communities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be in New Zealand for my first official visit to the country and to address this Fiji Trade and Investment Symposium – the first of my engagements over the next few days.
The fact that it is the first engagement underlines the importance my Government places on expanding our trade with New Zealand. As part of our wider push to take Fiji’s trade with the world to another level.
New Zealand is a very important market for us and let me begin by giving you all a brief snapshot of why. Two way trade in goods and services on average is worth almost 700-million Fijian dollars a year. And in terms of our tourism industry and Fiji’s biggest revenue earner, New Zealand is our second largest source market. With more than 120-thousand Kiwi visitors each year contributing more than 200-million dollars to the Fijian economy.
New Zealand visitor arrivals are increasingly buoyant. In fact over the past two years, we’ve seen the largest increase from New Zealand of any of our markets. And provisional monthly arrivals in August were up 15 per cent over the same period last year to reach a total of more than 20-thousand.
So more New Zealanders are visiting Fiji, with all that entails for the prosperity of our tourism sector. And as you will all discover as the day proceeds, the opportunities for New Zealanders to invest in Fiji and strengthen our overall trading relationship have also never been better.
Last Friday, I addressed a similar trade and investment symposium in Sydney. And while there are some differences between the Australian and New Zealand markets, there are also some striking similarities in terms of the overall investment climate. And not least is the dramatic improvement in the quality of Fiji’s political and diplomatic engagement with both the New Zealand and Australian Governments. Which is finally beginning to match the excellent people to people ties that have always existed between our peoples.
As many of you will already know, I will be having my second bilateral meeting in Wellington on Saturday with your Prime Minister, John Key. I want to say in advance of that meeting that I deeply appreciated Mr Key’s gesture in coming to Suva back in June, where we had our first encounter and were able to give the Prime Minister a warm Fijian welcome.
I was especially gratified to be able to convey to him, face to face, the absolute gratitude of the Fijian people for New Zealand’s assistance in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston back in February. The arrival in Fiji of so many Kiwi men and women in uniform aboard your aircraft and HMAS Canterbury was deeply appreciated. And their caring, “can do” attitude to help Fijians in the affected areas back on their feet is something we will never forget.
It’s unfortunate that some of the New Zealand media reporting of the Prime Minister’s visit back in June suggested that I had given Mr Key a hard time. It’s true that I politely outlined to him the reasons why we had chosen to embark on a radical program in 2006 to create a level playing field for every Fijian. And that we had fulfilled our promise to return Fiji to parliamentary rule in the election of September, 2014. I also said that it was a shame that New Zealand, Australia and certain other countries had failed to understand what we were trying to do – which was to introduce genuine democracy for the first time in Fiji and guarantee the rights of every Fijian in the 2013 Constitution.
Yet far from being the insult that some members of the media chose to cast it as, I think John Key understood that the speech I made was merely outlining our position and that no disrespect was intended. The indignation was on the part of some of the New Zealand media, not the Prime Minister, and undoubtedly because I also criticised their unrelentingly negative and unbalanced reporting of events in Fiji. But away from their gaze, the atmosphere between John Key and I personally was very cordial and we got on famously.
It’s true that I’ve had a couple of issues with him saying that I’d shot my mouth off about the Pacific Islands Forum or that he hoped we weren’t going to be “silly” about enforcing the provisions of our Public Order Act. But it hasn’t unduly affected the warmth of our relationship.
He knows that I’m Frank by name and Frank by nature and I know that he’s a similarly plain speaking Kiwi. Which is undoubtedly why the New Zealand people keep voting him back into office. So we’re big enough to say what we think and then move on. And I want to thank him for being a straight shooter, for not taking things too personally and especially for giving me the opportunity to get together with him again in New Zealand and enjoy each other’s company. In the similar rough and tumble of the Bledisloe Cup rugby match that we will be attending together at Eden Park on Saturday night.
This time it will be the Kiwis and Aussies slugging it out and no-one can blame me for anything. But I do hope both for John Key’s sake and because I’m a guest of the New Zealand people that the All Blacks win.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I also come with a message for the New Zealand media. Now that the bans on individual journalists visiting Fiji have been lifted, you are welcome – without exception – to visit Fiji like the journalists of other countries. You are free to report without restriction once you’ve been accredited in the usual way by our Department of Information. And all we ask is that you cover events fairly and in a balanced manner, which is the obligation of journalists the world over.
I hope you will come and see for yourselves the progress we have made on the back of seven straight years of economic growth – the longest in Fijian history. And to see for yourselves that our institutions of State are functioning properly and we are strengthening those institutions as we move forward. To ensure that they are truly independent and free from political and personal influence, as happened far too often in the past.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve come to New Zealand from Australia, where there has already been a dramatic improvement in the quality of our official relationship. A month ago, I had the pleasure of a very cordial meeting in New York with the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. And Mr Turnbull called me again on the telephone a few nights ago.
We’ve agreed to take our personal relationship and the relationship between our governments to another level. And my agenda on this New Zealand visit is precisely the same in relation to John Key and his ministers– to strengthen the quality of our engagement and bring our nations even closer together.
Of course, we will always have our differences, such as on the Pacer Plus trade negotiations. But I believe these differences can be worked through much more effectively in this new era of goodwill. Because, as I said in Sydney, now more than ever – given the uncertain global outlook – nations with shared histories and values must stick together.
We must never allow those things that divide us to take precedence over the things that bind us together. And especially when Fiji and New Zealand share our particular corner of the world and share the warm personal links between our peoples.
Let me repeat what I said about Pacer Plus last week before I move on to other things. Because I know many of you in the room are seeking clarification on Fiji’s position in relation to these important negotiations.
Fiji has emphatically not withdrawn from Pacer Plus. We are still at the table. Yet neither are we prepared to sign the document in its current form because we simply don’t believe that it is in our interests to do so.
On two critical issues – Infant Industry Development and Most Favoured Nation status – we believe the current legal text not only fails to meet our requirements. If implemented, it would have an adverse impact on our development and the development of our Pacific Island neighbours.
Fiji wants an enduring, predictable and sustainable trade agreement between New Zealand and Australia on the one hand and the Pacific Islands on the other. And in our view we still haven’t got one in these negotiations thus far. The current document is too one sided, too restrictive, places too many obligations on us that we cannot afford to meet. We need more flexibility, a recognition that we are a developing country and more concessions to enable us to have trading relationships with others. So I repeat: we cannot sign the current document.
We will, however, keep talking. Keep seeking an outcome that suits all parties. And only if New Zealand and Australia ultimately refuse to be flexible on the key concerns of Fiji and other Pacific island nations will we walk away.
I personally hope that day never comes. That in this instance, the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Parliament will come to see the justice of our position. And I ask you all in the New Zealand business community to support us. Because what we are asking for is reasonable. And it is fair.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I especially come to you today with an appeal to take a fresh look at the trade and investment opportunities in Fiji. And to play your own part in the economic reinvigoration of our relationship to match the new political and diplomatic re-engagement between our nations.
Today, you will hear a great deal about the many benefits of investing in Fiji – our position as Hub of the Pacific; our rapidly improving infrastructure – better roads, better airports, more efficient ports; our general connectivity and world class telecommunications; our investment incentives, including duty concessions, investment allowances and some of the lowest corporate and personal taxes in the region.
As I keep saying at every opportunity: Fiji is open for business. And our people here today are keen to show you the benefits. Whether it is my Industry, Trade and Tourism Minister, Faiyaz Koya; his Permanent Secretary, Shaheen Ali, and our Director of Trade, Seema Sharma; the CEO of Investment Fiji, Godo Mueller-Teut; or our High Commissioner in Wellington, Filimoni Waqabaca.
All of these people are keen to explain the benefits of investing in Fiji or expanding your investment in Fiji and I urge you all to take advantage of their expertise.
Above all, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to use this opportunity – as I did in Sydney – to highlight the one thing that I guarantee you will never find anywhere else but Fiji. And that is the quality of our people.
As you know, Fijians are famous the world over for their friendliness and hospitality – so much so that we proclaim ourselves as the place “where happiness finds you”. We’re even happier than usual ourselves these days. Because for all the continuing challenges we face recovering to Cyclone Winston, the entire nation has been on an unprecedented high after our World Champion Rugby Sevens Team brought back Olympic gold from Rio.
We’re determined to harness that winning Olympic spirit and channel it into all areas of national life. So as well as our hospitality and friendship, there’s another side to the Fijian people that I want to share with you all today as business people. And that is our work ethic, loyalty and eagerness to learn. To improve ourselves and to work as a team like our Olympic heroes for the common good, whether it is as a nation, a sporting team or a company.
For all our investment incentives, for all our attractive tax rates, I believe that it is the quality of our people that is the best reason to invest in Fiji or to grow your existing business. With a literacy rate approaching 94 per cent, our people are educated, English speaking and becoming smarter all the time.
My Government’s education revolution is our proudest achievement and the cornerstone of our nation’s development. For the first time, we have introduced free schooling at primary and secondary level. Along with more scholarships for higher education and a tertiary loans scheme.
As well as our three universities, we have established a network of technical colleges throughout the country to provide Fiji with the skills base it needs to prosper. And to provide you – as employers – with a workforce that is more formally qualified than at any other time in Fijian history.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the people. And we have the policies. And we also have the most stable period in Fijian history to enable investment to flourish.
We have put behind us the lost years. The years in which we argued about who among us deserved more rather than working together as one people to take our nation forward. With everyone now enjoying the common identity of being Fijian, there is a new sense of belonging. A new sense of unity. A new sense of purpose. And with that feeling of inclusiveness – of taking everyone with us on our journey forward – we have entered a new era of confidence and sustained growth in the Fijian economy.
Just as important, we are using our relative wealth not to prop up recurrent expenditure – as previous governments did – but to invest in new infrastructure. And to do much more to improve the lives of disadvantaged Fijians by providing them with such things as subsidised electricity and free water and medicine, along with the nation’s first ever social security pensions.
All this has been possible because of my Government’s sound management of the economy and business friendly policies. In contrast to many other developing countries, we regard the private sector as vital partners in national development. And those pro-business policies will continue, along with the zero tolerance for corruption and maintenance of law and order that has always been a hallmark of my Government. Also in stark contrast to many other developing countries, including in our own region
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you all to view the investment opportunities that Fiji offers with fresh eyes. Whether you are looking for a new manufacturing base, to develop a tourism venture or an agricultural project. To take advantage of the growing opportunities in ICT, mining, food processing or any number of other areas.
Fiji is open for business. Fiji is the place to be. With its easy access to surrounding countries, well developed banking and financial institutions, state-of-the-art telecommunications and above all, our educated workforce. The wonderful Fijian people, who are finally working together as one nation with their eyes firmly set on excellence. On transforming our developing country into a modern nation State. On achieving the greatness that we all know awaits us if we remain united and focused.
Thank you all for your attendance and providing us with the opportunity to showcase Fiji. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible. And now have great pleasure in declaring this Fiji Trade and Investment Symposium open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.
HON. PRIME MINISTER VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT THE FIJI TRADE AND INVESTMENT SYMPOSIUM IN AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
The Honourable Fijian Minister for Industry Trade and Tourism,