Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I am quite honoured to be here at this network breakfast event and to have the chance to speak to you, the distinguished members of the Vancouver Board of Trade. This part of Canada is really very young, and its status as one of the world’s great cosmopolitan centres is due in no small part to the work of this institution over nearly 130 years.
Vancouver is well known for having wisely exploited its geographical position to harness the growth of the Asia-Pacific region. It is clear to anyone who visits here that this is truly a place where east meets west, where the dynamism and originality of the North American economy meet the energy and ambition of the Asian economy.
And so you might ask: Why is the leader of a small island nation in the South Pacific here? What does Fiji want? And what opportunities does Fiji offer to us?
Yes, the difference in scale between Fiji and many of your major trading partners—like Australia, South Korea, Japan and China—is huge. But Fiji is emerging quickly as the economic, communications and technological hub of the western South Pacific, and we are a convenient gateway to important markets. We have adopted major reforms to create a very hospitable climate for business and investment. We have reformed our educational system to be more fair and, most importantly, to nurture and develop the talents of our people. And we have invested heavily to improve our infrastructure—ports, highways, communications, airports, hospitals.
These investments have reinforced policy changes. By reducing taxes, providing rational incentives for investment, and adopting a culture that is more friendly to business, we have produced economic growth for six consecutive years, with growth rates of more than four percent a year for the past three years. This has put a stop to three decades of disappointment, and some smart people believe Fiji could crack the five per cent mark in 2015. We are also on track for investment to exceed 25 per cent of GDP for the third straight year. And our foreign reserves are now sufficient to cover five months of imports.
We have also made it a lot easier for investors to establish themselves in Fiji. We have created a team approach that has all parts of government working together to reduce red tape and provide a seamless entry into Fiji. You won’t have to work with an endless stream of ministries and regulatory authorities. Our philosophy is to work together with the needs of potential investors as our first priority.
Specifically, we have launched on Online Single Window Clearance System to speed up the investment process. This Internet-based gateway will allow any investor anywhere in the world to deal with the critical agencies of our government, like the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority, the Reserve Bank, Investment Fiji and the Registrar of Companies. If you have a computer and access to the Internet, you can get started.
Once you get to Fiji, you will find a young, talented, educated, English-speaking workforce. You will be able to import capital equipment and capital goods duty-free, as well as inputs for manufacturing. You will enjoy the lowest corporate taxes in the region—a flat rate of 20 percent, with a reduction to 17 percent for companies that base their international or regional headquarters in Fiji. You will take advantage of preferential trading arrangements with other Pacific Island countries as well as Australia, New Zealand, and others. And you will enjoy tax-free status for 13 years if you invest in certain targeted regions of the country.
Fiji is no stranger to international business. As you know—and as some of you may have experienced personally—our tourism industry is world-class. We have worked to a world standard in tourism for many years, which has produced a culture of quality that pervades the rest of our economy, from agriculture to manufacturing to services. We are committed to making the words “Fijian Made” a metaphor for quality and sophistication.
We know, of course, that a strong economy flows not just from government policies. A strong economy flows from a strong citizenry. By our new Constitution, every Fijian has equality of opportunity. This was not always the case, but it is today. A wave of optimism has swept the country, and we are determined to capitalize on that optimism and the energy and drive it has produced. We are determined to broaden and deepen Fijian democracy, a democracy that is blind to differences of ethnicity, religion and gender. Your multi-ethnic city stands as a model of what true meritocracy and true commitment to equality can achieve.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know that the name Fiji conjures up many strong images in the Western imagination—of an exotic and beautiful south-sea island, of a leisurely and carefree way of life, pristine environment, of a small nation that is an international rugby power, of a small nation playing a giant role in global peace keeping duties, or of a memorable vacation. We love those images because they, amongst other things, keep bringing people to Fiji, but we are much more.
So allow me to tell you: Fijians work hard. We love our country, and we want to make it better. We have ambition and drive and a strong sense of civic duty. We are hospitable and civil, with a firm democratic spirit. Most of all, we have pride on ourselves, in our work, and it what we will leave behind for our children. We are not looking for help; we are looking for partners who will grow with us in that same progressive spirit.
I have come to Canada and am here with you in Vancouver because I believe the Canadian character meshes so well with ours. Canadians are famously decent, civil and generous. You are honest, hard-working and entrepreneurial. You are unswerving in your commitment to democracy, equality and justice. And you know how to do business. What more could a country like Fiji want from an investment or trading partner?
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.