Posts tagged exports

PM Bainimarama Addresses the 2012 Fiji Exporter of the Year Awards

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Exporter of the Year Awards

My fellow Fijians.

Bula Vinaka and good evening.

I’m pleased to be here tonight to celebrate an important milestone – the 20th anniversary of the Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Awards.

For me, this is one of the most significant events on the national calendar. Because one of the most critical aspects to Fiji’s prosperity is to have a thriving export trade.

A country’s exports are its currency in the world. The quality of the goods and services we offer and the price we get for them is vital for the health of our economy.

It helps determine the value of our dollar. It brings us the foreign exchange we need to buy goods from elsewhere and helps us reduce our trade deficit.

Our national brands also bring us prestige. If the Fijian Made tag is synonymous with quality, then Fiji itself stands tall.

When customers the world over see the word Fiji, they should know that there is a certain quality that stands behind it. They should know that what they are buying is solid, reliable and represents value for money.

So it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of our exporters to the lives of every Fijian.

It’s not only the jobs that are created here but the overall economic growth that our export income provides.

As your Prime Minister, I want to pay tribute tonight to all of you for your hard work, determination, and innovation. The winners naturally get the glory but every one of you deserves congratulations

Penetrating international markets in a highly competitive global economy isn’t easy, but you have done it.  We are proud of you, and on behalf of the nation, I extend to you my thanks.

You deserve special commendation over the past year for maintaining your performance in the face of some major setbacks at home.

The catastrophic floods we experienced dented our economy but didn’t damage it as badly as we feared and our exporters deserve a huge amount of credit for that.

My Government firmly supports businesses because we believe that providing people with jobs is the surest way to lift them out of poverty.

By helping businesses to grow and take risks, we are creating opportunities for our people—to find jobs and start their own small businesses.

In achieving this objective my Government has a holistic approach. It also has and will not hesitate to review structures and relations that have been an impediment to sustained economic growth and creating sustainable livelihoods. These impediments have fostered corruption, an uneven playing field, cronyism and a jaundiced system.

The FNPF reform is one such initiative. Some so-called “prominent economists” and those who benefitted from a skewered system criticised the reforms. Those very reforms have now resulted in international recognition of and award to FNPF as a leading superannuation fund.

Similarly, the Essential Industries Decree creates a rational approach to labour relations in identified critical economic sectors.

Unreasonable and unrealistic labour relations do not help workers. They do not help employers. They do not help investment. They do not help families. In fact, they hurt them all. Only a privileged few benefit from a skewered system, whose only long term objective is to protect those privileges.

Air Pacific (soon to be Fiji Airways), a winner of this award not long ago, was saved because my Government made the appropriate decisions, which included the application of the Essential Industries Decree to Air Pacific.

And now, our national airline has made a remarkable turnaround. Instead of closing down or cutting jobs, as many other airlines throughout the world have done, Fiji Airways/Air Pacific is buying new aircraft. It is rebranding. It can add more routes. This will create more jobs for Fijians. It will expand our ability to bring more tourists to our shores. All of this will lead to more growth in our economy. All of this has been done without a single job lost or exploitation of its workers.

We believe in hard work, not handouts, and want a strong partnership with the business community as we work to overcome our economic challenges.

As we all know, business needs consistency from Government when it comes to such things as land availability, access to labour, application of the law, the supply of raw materials and access to markets.

So as stated, we take a holistic approach to development and have adopted a long-term view as we strive, with progressive policies, to consolidate Fiji’s strength as an exporting country.

Notably, we have opened up new markets with our “Look North” policy, which has launched a global diplomatic campaign to engage with all nations

We are promoting our goods and services with initiatives such as “Buy Fijian – Fijian made”.

We are reforming the Civil Service to make it more responsive to the needs of business. We have to do a lot more to remove the frustrating red tape that often gets in the way of dealing with government. We want the Civil Service to do what it’s meant to do – serve

We have introduced a range of incentives to assist your export efforts. These include zero-rated duty on plant and machinery and competitive tax rates to encourage further investment.

We are also taking bold steps to address one of the major issues that are limiting growth and development in Fiji– the state of our roads.

We are adopting a completely new approach to the way our roads are managed and maintained. The Department of National Roads has become the Fiji Roads Authority. Simply put, there was too much inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption. And there was also too little knowledge and expertise. There was a lack of understanding of the causal effect between roads and economic growth.

So we have called on the private sector to work with us to provide the necessary skills to modernize our national infrastructure.

This means that many workers will have to move from the public sector to the private sector. And I am confident that many of the Fijians who worked at the old Department of National roads will be employed by our new partners.

They will also have the opportunity to learn new skills and expertise from the many training initiatives of my government for alternative livelihoods.

Ladies and Gentlemen we need to do better – and we can – to set our objectives and deliver the economic growth we owe to our people and especially the young. They look to us to provide a proper framework to provide them with the jobs they need to have hope for the future. We must not let them down.

In essence, my Government sees the private sector as a leading force in achieving economic prosperity for Fiji, with Government supporting and supplementing your efforts.

As a symbol of the partnership between the private and public sectors, I want to thank our principal sponsors tonight -  Vodafone (Fiji) Ltd and Westpac Banking Corporation – along with all the other sponsors who have made this event possible. Vinaka vakalevu.

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge and reward our best exporters.

These are the people who take Fiji to the world.

They’re raising our economic performance, opening up new markets and creating new opportunities.

Congratulations to all of you. Please enjoy the rest of the evening

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Inaugural Meeting of the Mahogany Industry Council

My Fellow Fijians.

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Inaugural Meeting of the Mahogany Industry Council. The Council is the apex body established under the Mahogany Industry Development Decree. Its function is to supervise and direct the maintenance and development of the Mahogany Industry in Fiji.

As you are all fully aware, our mahogany resource was grossly mismanaged for many years. What existed could barely be described as an Industry at all. It was fragmented and lacked cohesion.

The process of felling trees was done with no real objective for value adding and the harvesting did not produce long term sustained benefits for our people. As some of you are aware, majority of the mahogany including sawn timber were exported in a very rudimentary form. Also, there was no organized programme for reforestation of mahogany trees.

The whole business conducted through FHCL and those who participated in it was prone to corruption – in the forest, in the sawmill, and in the offices. FHCL, the holder of the Mahogany Leases, was haemorrhaging financially. And both the nation and ordinary Fijians were being deprived of a suitable return and the non-realisation of the full potential of this most precious resource.

There was inefficiency, lack of knowledge, and antiquated and outmoded systems.

And there was a clear lack of responsibility and accountability on the part of the previous Management and the Boards of FHCL . There was a lack of willingness to make a paradigm shift. There was a lack of willingness to adopt modern practices and management in getting the maximum return through value-adding of one’s own resources. While there was much talk of reform, there was little appetite or ability to actually design and implement reform.

It is a significant concern to my Government that over the years, FHCL has accumulated over 20 million dollars of Government-guaranteed debt. Apart from this debt, FHCL has received Government grants of over 25 million dollars since 1998, which will never be paid back. Furthermore, in the previous years there were unsatisfactory efforts to even service this debt.

Put simply, the system was broken. And my Government committed itself to fixing it. To build a modern and sustainable Industry. To introduce order, efficiency, and cohesion where none had existed previously.

We could not continue to allow a few people to continue to profit at the expense of ordinary Fijians.

We had to stop the rot. We had to create this Industry to realise the true potential of this valuable resource, to get the maximum returns for the Fijian economy and all Fijians including landowners.

As a result, my Government introduced two Decrees designed to implement international best practices in the management of our mahogany resources and to ensure landowners and all Fijians received greater benefits from this important Industry.

The first is the Mahogany Industry Development Decree 2010. This Decree instills the transparency and efficiency that was previously absent in the Industry.

It has the best interests of all stakeholders at heart – not just a privileged few – and provides a fairer deal for all.

With proper implementation, the Decree will result in landowners receiving a larger share of the proceeds from Mahogany timber sales. This is particularly so, as the Decree sets the framework for the restructure of the Industry including the formation of the Mahogany Industry Council and the redefining of the roles of Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited and the Fiji Mahogany Trust.

The second Decree is the Mahogany Industry (Licensing and Branding) Decree 2011.

This establishes a comprehensive regime for the licensing and branding of Fijian mahogany.  The Decree implements a distinct and exclusive Fiji mahogany brand, which will help us achieve premium pricing for our valuable resource. Branding of Fijian mahogany will also prevent unscrupulous overseas buyers from exploiting our Mahogany Industry by mixing and selling Fijian mahogany with illegally harvested mahogany from other parts of the world.

To date, the Council has lodged registration of Fiji Pure Mahogany brands in more than 19 countries including China, India, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union, which includes France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and Netherlands, amongst others. I am pleased to report that registrations of the Fijian mahogany brand have been approved in most of these countries.

The main focus of these reforms is to ensure that there are a restricted number of operators licensed to purchase mahogany with key criteria being value-adding in Fiji and export of Fiji mahogany as a distinct product. Value-adding in the Mahogany Industry will produce many positive results for the stakeholders. It will generate private sector investments, raise the value of our mahogany exports, and generate more employment in the industry.

As you all know, Fiji has the largest mahogany plantations in the world. This is something for our nation to be hugely proud of and is all the more reason for us to get it right – to demand more from this Industry than we have in the past.

My Government changed the course of this Industry to make it more modern and responsive to the needs of ordinary Fijians. The proceeds of this precious resource are beginning to reach the grassroots. Within the next one to two years, the momentum of this reform will gain an even greater pace for the benefit of all.

One of the ways this is being done is to include more women in the Industry as we update equipment and rely less on brute strength for our workforce. There are many new employment opportunities emerging for women. And when women earn wages, more money stays at home.

On this note, I am pleased to note that SMI, the first company to be provided with a licence to purchase mahogany, has a substantial number of women working in the sawmil, operating state-of-the-art machines in making world-class guitar components out of Fijian mahogany – a clear example of value-adding and its benefits to the economy.

I urge all of you to support the Government’s effort to make this Industry more sustainable, more accountable and to finally achieve more equity in the system.

When it comes to reform, the Industry is a work-in-progress. But we are now on the right path. We must all work together – the public and private sectors – to make the most of this rare natural asset and increase its general contribution to the economy.

We urge the financial institutions to step up and contribute to the radical reforms that my Government is implementing.  They need to seriously consider the ways in which they can assist landowners to establish new business ventures and provide funding and business advice.

For example, with appropriate financial assistance and on-going advice, landowners could enter into businesses that provide harvesting and log cartage services to FHCL.

My fellow Fijians, I am pleased to say that landowners and the people of Fiji will soon be seeing the results of my Government’s reforms in this very important Industry.

Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu.