SPEECH: PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT THE WESTPAC PRIME MINISTER’S EXPORTER OF THE YEAR AWARDS

Bula Vinaka and Good Evening.

It is a great honour and privilege to be here tonight, to recognize and celebrate with you the achievements of our exporters. But this 2014 Westpac Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Awards is not just a celebration of achievement – it is a symbol of the dynamism and boldness that has taken hold in our business community.

There is no doubt about it: Fiji is not just a little country tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Pacific; Fiji is a little country with big ideas. Fiji is not an island country that looks in on itself; Fiji is an island country that looks outward. Fijians are not a people who wait for bigger nations to help us; Fijians are people who will find and seize the opportunities the world holds for us.

We are at the beginning of a new era of confidence and trade. We are leaders in our Pacific island community and respected for the contributions we make in the world—at the United Nations, in our region, and in peacekeeping operations in the world’s trouble spots. We have earned a place at the table.

The proof is the visits here this week of the leaders of the world’s two largest countries, home to more than 2.5 billion people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the largest democracy in the world and President Xi Jin Ping of the fastest growing economy of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, our exports have been growing steadily. Our exports are expected to have grown by 8 percent in 2014 and we expect them to grow even further next year and beyond. This growth is broad-based. All our exports are growing and contributing to this trend.

Our imports are growing, too, and that is another good sign. Thanks in part to our exporters, people have more disposable income to spend on goods. And many of these imports are also products our exporters use to support their businesses.

Our foreign reserves are strong. They currently stand at 1.8 billion dollars, enough to cover around 4.6 months of imports. Our foreign reserves import cover has consistently been above 4 months since 2009. Never before have we maintained such a strong foreign-reserves position for five consecutive years.

We—the Government and the private sector—can share credit for this. You, the exporters, have the ideas and the drive to export, to find markets. You take the risks. Government’s job is to establish the conditions to help you succeed and get out of your way. This is precisely what we did – we created an enabling environment and got out of your way and let you get to work. We can achieve a lot more together. We will achieve a lot more together. This is only the beginning. Success breeds success.

The Reserve Bank has been able to ease exchange controls. With our low inflation, the Reserve Bank has been able to make more money available, which has also been good for exporters, because exporters need credit.

As a result of sound investment policies, private sector investment is now at 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, a feat we have achieved only twice since independence 44 years ago.

With a low inflation rate of 0.3 per cent so far this year, foreign reserves of more than $1.7 billion, forecasted GDP growth of 4% next year, a wave of foreign investment projects, a construction boom and unprecedented government investment in infrastructure, business confidence in Fiji has never been stronger. And that is good for exports.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that trade has to be one of our fundamental demarcators of economic prosperity. Fiji’s future depends on our ability to optimize our trading potential. To do that, we have to be prepared to compete on the world stage—not just with our neighbors here in the western Pacific, but with the biggest economies of the world. History shows us many examples of small countries that grew powerful because they became skilled traders—from Holland in the 17th century to Singapore in the 20th century.

History also tells us that successful trading countries have invested in education, and so are we. If we want to export, we have to produce things that other countries want. From agriculture to technology, our products have to be of high quality, and we have to have the skills and the management ability to innovate and adapt. That is one of the reasons we continue to invest so heavily in our education system. The 2015 Budget announced yesterday further gives impetus to this investment. We need to develop—right here in Fiji—the people who will drive our export economy and lead this nation to greatness in the future. We need to develop the innovators, food technologists, the scientists, the engineers, the entrepreneurs, the I.T experts and managers through our own education system.

And speaking of the future, this year I am proud to acknowledge our Youth Entrepreneurs, who have made their own contributions to the Fijian economy. We know you will do well. You are off to a great start.

Ladies and gentlemen these awards are not just a recognition; they are an incentive for exporters to question the value that they are creating, to examine their systems and processes, and to commit to raise quality of what they produce and how they market it.

As Prime Minister of this great and beautiful country, I want to encourage all organizations, big and small, not to apply for these awards for the awards’ sake. I encourage you to use the awards as a standard to push yourselves to be better. To sell more. To take your products and services to new places.

Evidence has shown that companies that are sensitive to their environment—the companies that adapt and learn—grow faster and live longer. As famous Dutch business executive, said, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Everyone here knows that it is folly to think that we can achieve great results by working the way we did a decade ago. Responding to change or embracing change is a characteristic of learning organizations, which I challenge you all to adopt.

And that brings me to my second encouragement to you: Adapt. We will make our mark in the international trade by ensuring that our products and services are of the best quality. “Fijian Made” and “Buy Fijian” can’t be metaphors for exotic or quaint. They have to mean quality in the mind of consumers and competitors when we take “Fijian Made” global.

In the meantime, you have my promise that my Government will continue to make exports a priority and will continue to provide the environment and the incentives that our exporters need to grow.

Indeed as announced in the 2015 Budget yesterday, my government will from next year give a zero percent tariff protection and other duty incentives to businesses which will bring in semi finished products for completion in Fiji and for 100 percent export. This will also apply to bulk products brought into Fiji for packaging and 100 per cent export. This is a new opportunity for exporters and we intend to make further announcements in respect of this initiative.

Ladies and Gentlemen I would like to leave you with the thought the awards night belongs to every exporter who has been recognized tonight. Your achievements tonight speak of your determination, commitment and hard work. I urge you all to share your success stories with others and encourage them to begin the same journey. I wish you all a wonderful evening.

Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank You.