Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Fiji-FAO 2012 Asia-Pacific Sugar Conference

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you.

I would like to welcome you all to this Conference, in particular those who have travelled from abroad.

I hope that you take the time out to enjoy our famous Fijian hospitality and see our beautiful country.

I thank the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Fiji Sugar Industry and the International Sugar Organisation (ISO) for assembling an outstanding team of expert speakers for this Conference. The wide range of important topics on the agenda will make this conference fertile ground for the exchange of ideas, which I am certain will benefit all participants.

Since its first cultivation 130 years ago, sugar cane and the production of sugar remain an essential part of the Fijian economy. It is a major economic driver, and it is responsible for the livelihood of approximately 200,000 Fijians, more than 20% of our population.

However, production in Fiji has declined over the last couple of decades, due to a number of factors.

This is a trend that my Government is determined to reverse. We are committed to creating a modern, economically viable and sustainable Sugar industry in Fiji. As I have said many times before, the Fijian Sugar Industry is here to stay.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why we have implemented a number of reform initiatives and committed a great deal of financial resources to help revitalize the Industry.

My Government has made budgetary provisions to support the Sugar Cane Industry over the past few years, specifically targeting cultivation and production. We have also facilitated financial collaboration between Government, the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) and the private sector.

We have been focused on improving famers’ ability to obtain long-term leases, on assessing and improving our cartage system, on increasing the efficiency of our mills, and on assisting those farmers who were affected by natural disasters.

Mill performance, production and supply, cane quality, cane transport, proper and efficient allocation of funds, natural disasters, and land tenure and leases are all challenges that the Industry faces.

Government initiatives and financial backing can only achieve so much. It is through dialogue, team work, a sense of common purpose, and a willingness to accept new ideas and practices that the Industry will be successful.

In this regard, the theme of this year’s Conference, “Sugar Policies to Promote Trade, Development and Growth: Priorities to Face Future Challenges,” is timely and relevant.

Regional meetings such as this allow us to share our experiences, transfer knowledge and advice, and strengthen our regional network and support structures. Though particular circumstances differ from country to country, as a region, we are faced by many of the same issues, such as market access and opportunities– particularly as they relate to the ACP and its status with the EU. This would also include the interim Economic Partnership Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement.

I urge all stakeholders to take advantage of this rare opportunity. From this Conference, I hope that we will emerge with new insights into the challenges that face Asian and Pacific countries in the international sugar market.

I hope that we will better be able to place our local and specific experiences within their global context. And I hope that we will all emerge united with new ideas and new approaches.

In Fiji, we are constantly looking for new ideas and new approaches. We are quite willing to look at problems with fresh sets of eyes. We are committed to judging a solution on its merit, rather than its maker.  We want to ensure that the policies we put in place are transparent and fair, and that they have been informed by broad consultations and by expert advice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this commitment extends beyond the Sugar Industry. It is at the very heart of my Government’s attitude towards development. For example, it can be seen in the wider electoral and constitutional reforms underway–reforms that seek nothing less than to build a new Fiji that is united, well-governed, and truly democratic. We are a nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based opportunity for all, which is underpinned by a common and equal citizenry.

So my Government has taken a new approach. My Government has made a paradigm shift.

Fiji has, for the first time, an electronic voter-registration system that incorporates biometric technology and electronic voter-registry software to ensure accurate voter identification. This will help eliminate voter fraud in our 2014 Elections.

We have appointed an independent Constitutional Commission, which has a mandate to listen to all Fijians, through an open and public process, especially those who in the past have been voiceless and marginalized.

And perhaps most importantly, we have promised our firm commitment to certain fundamental principles, including:

  • A secular State;
  • a common national identity;
  • the removal of systemic corruption;
  • an independent Judiciary;
  • elimination of discrimination;
  • good and transparent governance;
  • social justice;
  • one person, one vote, one value;
  • the elimination of ethnic voting;
  • proportional representation;
  • and a voting age of 18.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these principles are widely recognised by the international community as unassailable. They represent a new idea and a new approach to nationhood in Fiji. One that will establish our country as a modern nation-state. A modern nation-state with a clear vision, and a dedication to that vision- new ideas and new approaches for a new beginning. New ideas and new approaches that will form a strong foundation for the future, by establishing stability and confidence in all sectors, including sugar.

I can assure you that this commitment to new ideas and new approaches is at the very core of all we are trying to achieve in Fiji. While we are confident that our Sugar Reforms are on track, as illustrated with some modest improvements that are beginning to emerge from this year’s crushing season, we will continue to engage in dialogue. We will to continue to learn. We will continue to improve. We will continue to support. And we will continue to develop.

I now have great pleasure in declaring the Fiji/FAO 2012 Asia Pacific Sugar Conference, open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.