Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
We can only achieve the greatness we aspire to in the new Fiji; only be an inspiration to our island neighbours; only become a clever country if we can trade more effectively. Which is why tonight is so important – the unveiling of a ten-year framework to strengthen our trade performance all the way to 2025. Along with the launch of an online system that gives foreign investors a new window on Fiji, enabling them to begin the process of setting up businesses here from wherever they may be, anywhere in the world.
My Fellow Fijians,
The Fijian Trade Policy Framework is truly a milestone in our nation’s development. Which is why I’m so delighted to be here tonight with you all – the main stakeholders in our economy – as we embark together on a decade-long crusade.
It is a campaign to take the Fijian-made brand to the four corners of the earth. To earn us the export dollars we need to improve the lives of every Fijian. To fulfil our dreams to build a nation that is great. Not only one of equality and opportunity but where poverty and despair gives way to prosperity and happiness. That is my Government’s vision. That is our plan. And with your help, we will achieve it.
My Fellow Fijians,
This document is comprehensive, easy to understand and is one of the most important blueprints for our national development ever produced. It is up there with our Constitution and our recently released Green Growth Framework. Why? Because each of those – along with this Policy – sets down a solid development pathway for Fiji to follow in the coming decade and beyond.
Our Constitution has established a Supreme Law under which every Fijian has equal opportunity, equal access to justice and an unprecedented range of social and economic rights. Our Green Growth Framework establishes an economic model in which the sustainable use of our resources is paramount. And now our Trade Policy Framework lays out a comprehensive course of action to take our economy to another level by boosting our trade performance. To bring together all of the strands of our economy – all of the stakeholders – to work together to expand our global footprint. And make Fijian Made goods and services a byword for quality and consistency the world over.
Each of these documents is complimentary. Together they represent a holistic approach to our development. And all this will feed into the five and 20 year National Plans we are currently formulating – with the input of every Fijian – to take our nation forward.
So I urge everyone to read these documents – the Constitution, the Green Growth Framework and our Trade Policy Framework – to appreciate where we are heading as a nation. A Fiji of equal opportunity and justice for all. A Fiji where economic growth will never come at the expense of the environment. And a Fiji that intends to educate and improve the skills of our people; encourage a spirit of enterprise and hard work; attract more local and foreign investment; grow our existing industries and develop new ones; cement Fiji’s place as the hub of the Pacific. And sell Fijian-made goods and services throughout the world at the highest possible price.
I also want to embark on a mission to explain. We’ve already translated the Constitution and the Green Growth Framework into I’Taukei and Fiji-Hindi and we will do the same with this Policy. Because we want all Fijians to come with us on this journey. I keep saying that my Government is determined to leave no-one behind and that includes sharing our vision for the new Fiji. One of the cornerstones of this new Framework is inclusiveness. A concerted national effort embracing every Fijian to move our nation forward.
My Fellow Fijians,
Let me just give you a snapshot of how far we’ve come before moving on to where we intend to go. Since, Independence in 1970, the Fijian economy was growing at an average rate of 2.4 per cent. Then in the last decade the economy grew at an average rate of 1.1 per cent.
None of this was good enough. We simply didn’t have the right conditions – political stability above all – to encourage enough private sector growth and investment to power our economy to a reasonable level, let alone make it sing.
So one of my Government’s top priorities from 2007 onwards has been to embark on a series of ambitious reforms to kick-start the economy and create the necessary conditions for real growth. Real prosperity.
Among other things, we reduced taxes, provided a range of investment incentives, started making the process of dealing with government more business friendly, tackled our infrastructure problems and bottlenecks, such as our roads, ports and airports. And of course, we ended three decades of arrested national development by uniting the country and introducing our first genuine democracy.
We are now reaping the rewards of those reforms. We’ve recovered strongly from the economic gloom of previous decades. And we are in the throes of the most sustained period of growth in post-Independence history. More investment. More jobs. And an era of prosperity for Fijians that we are determined to eventually extend to every citizen, and especially the disadvantaged.
I keep talking about working together as a nation to grow the national cake so that everyone can get a better slice rather than cutting off big pieces for special interest groups. Well, that is happening. The entire cake is getting bigger. And we must all work as hard as we can to keep it growing. To give every Fijian a better slice.
We are now in the sixth year of consecutive growth on the back of my Government’s sound economic policies, coupled with an improvement in the general business environment for private sector expansion. And for the first time in Fijian history, the economy has been growing at a rate above four per cent for three consecutive years. We had a high of 4.6 per cent in 2013. Can we crack the five per cent mark in 2015? On current indications, we could come pretty close.
As to the level of investment, we are also on track this year to record the third consecutive year in which investment exceeds 25 per cent of GDP. And our foreign reserves are also higher than ever before – almost two billion dollars as of last month, enough to cover five months of imports. So as a nation, we are steadily building our economic strength. And our Trade Policy Framework is designed to take us even further.
My Fellow Fijians,
Tonight marks the culmination of 20 months of hard work. When I commissioned the development of the Trade Policy Framework in September 2013, I called on every sector to work as a team and produce a blueprint to maximise our international trade position. I’m very pleased that this is what happened – government and the private sector working as partners in development.
We don’t operate in isolation. We recognise the private sector as the engine of economic growth and the principal creator of the jobs Fijians need to prosper. We didn’t produce this document in isolation. It is the result of a vigorous process of consultation. And I want to thank every stakeholder for your input, the quality of your ideas and the way in which we have all collaborated in a great project to take our beloved nation forward.
As I indicated earlier, this is not a stand-alone document. It is linked – like the links of a chain – to our overall policy effort. Whether it is the Constitution, the Green Growth Framework, our Agriculture Policy and the other elements of our national agenda. All feeding in to our National Development Plan to which so many ordinary Fijians are currently giving their input. Our super framework – if you like – to take us as a nation first to 2020 and then to 2035.
What the Trade Policy Framework does is to bring our overall trade effort under one umbrella. We need more coordination, more consistency. We need to encourage the growth of Fiji’s industrial base, make us more attractive to investors. Be smarter. More innovative. More adaptable. Identify more opportunities in the global marketplace for our goods and services. Give our exporters all the assistance we can. And also raise Fiji’s voice to call for better and fairer access to the global marketplace. To participate more effectively in trade negotiations and fully integrate Fiji into the global trading system.
At home, we must continually improve and refine the performance of our manufacturing, agriculture and service sectors. We must all work harder and smarter to make them more dynamic and more competitive. The world does not owe us a living, as we are finding out in our sugar cane industry. We have to carve out a living for ourselves. So overseas, we must intensify the search for new markets and work with our private sector in a more coordinated manner to identify new opportunities. Some of our companies are already regional and global brands. But we can take the Fijian Made trademark a lot further with more teamwork.
To this end, you will see more teamwork in Government in the trade area. A much closer and more cooperative relationship between the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its diplomatic missions abroad. Your mission is to market, market, market the Fijian-made brand and attract investments. And I want you to work hand in hand – with each other and the private sector – to do it much more effectively.
This is very important and let me be very blunt. We can only achieve our vision for Fiji if every sector of government works in unison. Puts aside petty rivalries and turf wars and focus on one thing and one thing alone – the national economy.
I will not tolerate any bureaucratic obstruction to implementing this agenda. We need every arm of Government to engage with each other and the private sector to maximise the impact of our export effort. The concept of Team Fiji – of working together to achieve our national goals – has never been more crucial to our development. And I need all of you in this room to get behind and support this important initiative.
My Fellow Fijians,
Tonight, we are also launching something that will make it much easier for potential foreign investors to begin the process of setting up a business in Fiji and contributing to our overall development. It’s called the Online Single Window Clearance System and let me explain how it works.
Until now, any potential investor has invariably had to come to Fiji and deal personally with the various individual arms of Government to tick the necessary boxes. But now we are unveiling an Internet-based gateway – a one-stop shop – in which an investor anywhere in the world can deal directly with the various Tier One agencies of Government – FRCA, the Reserve Bank, Investment Fiji and the Registrar of Companies.
All an investor needs is a computer and access to the Internet. And he or she only needs to visit only one place – the Online Single Window Clearance System – to get the necessary approvals instead of having to traipse around to all of the agencies individually.
Using the “Single Window”, you can now register and reserve a business name, obtain a tax identification number, approve a share issue and obtain a Foreign Investment Approvals Certificate with one electronic form and a single payment gateway.
It is a major breakthrough in our collective effort – and especially that of Investment Fiji – to make it easier to attract both foreign and local investors, who have long complained about the complexity of the approval process. It is all part of the wider effort by my Government to modernise the Civil Service and provide all of its services online.
My Fellow Fijians,
We are also streamlining the operations of Investment Fiji by improving its database of foreign investment projects. And to enable it to better track the implementation of these projects, the capital flows and the jobs created, we are linking Investment Fiji more closely to agencies such as the Reserve Bank, FRCA, the FNPF, the Immigration Department and the Registrar of Companies. It is all about making the process more efficient. Making Team Fiji less likely to drop the ball and more likely to spot the opportunities and seize them and put scores on the board for every citizen.
My fellow Fijians,
Without stretching my fondness for sporting analogies too far, let me say this: We can all be winners if we can play harder and smarter. We can all be winners if we face our national challenges together and deal with them in a holistic and inclusive fashion. I want to stress again that every Fijian is on this team, whoever you are or wherever you live in Fiji. We can all help take Fiji forward and expand its opportunities in the world.
I was proud and I was moved this week at the wonderful response I got when I handed 330 ordinary men and women the one-thousand dollar grant initiative we are giving small and micro businesses. To either start new enterprises or to take their businesses to another level. I could see from their faces that we are making a real difference in their lives and giving these people and their families a wonderful stake in the economy. Empowering them to empower themselves through enterprise and hard work. Giving them the opportunity to fulfil their ambitions. To fulfil their dreams.
There were all manner of Fijians in that crowd – small farmers, all kinds of trades people, food stall operators, bean-peanut sellers. Ordinary people. Hardworking, salt-of-the-earth people. The backbone of our nation. We are helping them because we are convinced we can expand the small business sector that is the backbone of every successful modern nation. And I have no doubt that in that crowd are some of the business names of the future. The exporters of the future. And they will make it because we recognised their potential and gave them a leg-up.
My Fellow Fijians,
As I keep telling our young people, it is a wonderful time to be Fijian. We have never stood taller or more proud in the world. The world is recognising our achievements. And it is time to redouble our efforts to engage with the world, to take the goods and services we produce to as many parts of the world as possible. To have “Fijian Made” a brand recognised and respected the world over. To take our nation to the next level on our journey to becoming a modern nation state.
At this juncture, I would like to thank ANZ for coming on board to accommodate the payment gateway and Government ITC and Yalamanchili for developing the online system.
We have many friends in the world and I ask our development partners to also join us in making this policy a success. And I now have great pleasure in launching both the Fijian Trade Policy Framework and the Online Single Window Clearance System for Tier One agencies.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.