Posts tagged Sugar


Bula vinaka, everyone, and a very good morning to you all.

I’m delighted to be with you in Lautoka – the sugar city – for the Fiji Sugar Corporation Sports Day.

What a wonderful occasion and how great it is to see you all here – the men and women who are an integral part of this great industry and your families.

When I heard from your Executive Chair that this event was happening, I was determined to be here at Natabua High School to share in the excitement.

This is not the occasion for a long speech except to say that the whole country values the contribution each and every one of you is making to the prosperity of your fellow Fijians.

As you know, 200,000 people depend directly or indirectly on the sugar cane industry for a living. It is our country’s second largest income earner and the hard work you all do benefits every Fijian.

In fact, many people had written the industry off. Yet all along, my Government has been determined to keep it alive.

And so we made the reforms that were needed, the tough decisions required so that all of you can continue to have jobs in the industry and provide for your families.

The new crushing season starts in a couple of days and I ask you all to put your hearts and souls into making it a success. And in return for all your hard work, I’ve got an announcement to make today.

In your next pay packet, every worker for the FSC is going to get a pay rise of five per cent backdated to the first of January of this year.

I want to say that all of you thoroughly deserve it. It isn’t a hand out, You earned it. It’s an acknowledgement of the hard work you put in last season. So congratulations!

You are an example to all Fijians of what can be achieved when workers, management and Government join hands for the good of everyone. You helped us make the reforms that were needed to put sugar on a proper footing and now you are reaping the rewards.

There are more benefits to be reaped if we continue with this collaboration in which we focus on the long term goals and sustainability.

So ladies and gentlemen sugar cane has turned the corner, just as our nation has turned the corner. And both the industry and our country can look forward to a much brighter future so long as we keep working hard and stay unified and focused.

To all of you, the staff, the management and the board, thank you very much for a wonderful effort.

And it now gives me great pleasure to declare the Fiji Sugar Corporation sports day open.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Thank you.

Fijian Prime Minister Rear Admiral Voreqe Bainimaraa opened the new FSC Head office in Lautoka


Bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

I’m delighted, as usual, to be in Ba and especially to launch an important breakthrough for our sugar cane industry – two new varieties of cane that have been especially developed here in Fiji for local conditions and the benefit of Fijian growers.
Before I do, I want to send a simple message to everyone in the Sugar Cane Industry – whether you’re a cane farmer, harvester, lorry driver, mill worker or any other industry stakeholder.

My Government is fully committed to the survival, prosperity and future viability of Fiji’s Sugar Cane Industry. A healthy sugar cane industry means a healthy Fiji for every citizen, and not just the 200,000 Fijians dependent on sugar. And we are doing everything humanly possible to guarantee that future.

We are now at a critical turning point. When my Government assumed office, many people had simply written the industry off, convinced that it was on the verge of collapse. But we were not going to let that happen without a fight. And I’m delighted to report to you all that we are winning that fight.

Over the past two seasons, the reforms we have made to the Industry are showing clear signs of producing a remarkable turn-around.

But I also want to send you all another message: that it is vitally important for every Fijian that those reforms continue. That we keep working together to guarantee that viable future for the sake of those working in the Sugar Cane Industry now and the generations to come.

All of the progress that we have made so far can so easily be lost if we take our eyes off the ball. So I appeal to every Fijian working in the sugar cane industry to carefully consider who is best placed to take the Industry forward and closely examine the record so far.

The fact is that stability and growth are remerging in the Industry for the first time in years. We’re no longer in survival mode just trying to keep the Industry from sliding over the edge. We’re now developing a long-term strategy to ensure that sugar cane continues to provide sustainable livelihoods for ordinary Fijians in the Industry and maintains its position as our nation’s second biggest export earner.

Sticking to that strategy is crucial because in today’s world, the global trading environment for sugar is marked by unstable prices and market fluctuations.

For a small player like Fiji, this presents serious challenges and uncertainty, especially without preferential access to international markets.

But these challenges are not insurmountable. It just means that we can’t be complacent or rely on the old ways of doing things. We have to be smarter, more adaptable, constantly on the lookout for opportunities, constantly able to change. And we have to be strategic and plan for the future.
To this end, we are actively engaged in tough negotiations with the European Union for continuing access for our raw sugar exports. Those negotiations have been very challenging but we are not putting all our eggs in one basket.

On the domestic front, we have ambitious plans for the future to increase production, boost efficiency and diversify the Industry. We are adopting a holistic approach to reform in the Sugar Industry Decree that the Government is currently formulating. Because all aspects of the Industry are inter-dependent and there is no point in reforming some and not the others.

Last month, I announced plans for the Fiji Sugar Corporation to assume the management of all harvesting and transport. This will relieve cane growers of some of their costs and improve the efficiency and reliability of transporting cane to the mills.
In the meantime, the FSC has already begun serious work on rehabilitating Fiji’s rail system that carries much of the cane to the mills. This includes the purchase of 2 more locomotives from Queensland and 10 6-tonne rail bins, which we intend to trial for the future cartage of cane. These could, over time, replace the existing 3 tonne bins.

On another front, key stakeholders are also looking at the possibility of establishing a “price stabilisation fund” to ensure a better return for our farmers. We think we can get higher and more predictable prices than we can by relying on the present 70/30 percent sugar proceeds sharing formula.

Essentially, our aim is to provide more stability and confidence for growers in particular but also the rest of the Industry so that we can generate more investment in sugar.

The FSC has also made a substantial capital investment in cogeneration in its Labasa Mill -and shortly in its Rarawai Mill – to give them the ability to produce all the energy they need themselves. This will not only save costs but eventually enable any surplus energy to be sold to the FEA. And it’s all part of our overall effort to reduce Fiji’s reliance on diesel fuel and lower our billion-dollar-a-year fuel import bill.

As a nation, we have ample cause to be excited about this year’s crush. The FSC has set an ambitious target of two million tonnes of cane this year – producing around 210,000 tonnes of sugar. And as Sugar Minister, I am very optimistic that this target is well within our reach.

As part of ensuring that this year’s crushing season will not face any uncertainties and in my Government’s commitment to reduce all difficulties for all sugar cane growing stakeholders, I take this opportunity today to announce that the dispensation given to all cane lorries last year will continue for this cane crushing season. I have already issued a directive to this effect and the MOU that was signed last year will be extended to this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Research and development play a big part of my Government’s plans for the long-term sustainability and growth of the Sugar Cane Industry in Fiji. The quest is for higher yielding varieties, higher sugar content, higher fibre content, cane varieties that are disease resistant and drought tolerant.

The search for new breakthroughs never ends. It is driven by the need to continuously look at raising levels of efficiency and effectiveness relative to the scarce resources that are available to us. It is about doing more with less.

We must cultivate a culture of excellence and the best possible intellectual environment to achieve optimum results. And we must understand that achieving these results can take time.

It can take years to breed a new variety of sugar cane. Years of hard work and fine-tuning. But we can’t let this dampen our resolve. It’s worth the wait. The right variety of sugar cane can have a huge impact on the fortunes of our farmers and it can be a big boost the Industry as a whole.

Today, we are gathered to celebrate the culmination of this journey of painstaking research and development with the release of two new sugar cane varieties. We can be very proud because both are genuinely Fijian Made and both are suited to the Fijian climate.

Qamea took 20 years to develop. It is an early-to-mid maturing variety with high cane yield, suitable to all soil types, no sheath hair (convenient for harvesting by hand) and high millable stalks.

Viwa took 10 years to develop. It is a mid-to-late maturing variety; thin but tall cane; does not lodge; is tolerant of dry conditions; grows well in very poor soils; has high fibre content – which is suitable for cogeneration – and has never flowered, meaning that it never stops growing.

Qamea and Viwa are the 18th and 19th cane varieties, respectively, to have been developed in Fiji by our very own scientists and I thank them on behalf of the nation for their sterling effort.

I want to pay special tribute to one of the pioneers of the Sugar Cane Research Centre – Dr. Ram Krishna Murthi. People like Dr. Murthi is the embodiment of the clever country my Government envisages for Fiji across every sector of the economy.

I’m told that for the first time after the research phase, the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji carried out field trials on seven farms to test these new varieties in different environments. Later this morning you will have the opportunity to hear feedback from these growers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
After the release of the new varieties this morning, the onus is clearly on cane growers to make good use of them. We now have 19 commercial varieties available to choose from and growers can approach either the SRIF, the Sugar Cane Growers Council or the FSC for advice on which variety is suitable for their particular farms.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce the appointment of a new Interim SRIF Board to take the Institute to another level. It will be chaired by the Executive Chair of FSC, and other Board members will be Permanent Secretary for Sugar, the CEO for the Sugar Cane Growers Council.

I also wish to announce that the acting CEO for SRIF will be Mr. Sanjay Prakash.

The Interim Board and the acting CEO will prepare and guide SRIF to undertaking adaptive research that meet the requirements of the Fijian Sugar Cane Industry so that SRIF remains relevant and ready to meet new challenges.

I now have great pleasure in formally releasing the two new cane varieties -QAMEA and VIWA – to the Fijian Sugar Cane Industry.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

PM Bainimarama – Speech at the Opening of the New Sugar Research Institute of Fiji Complex

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

After three days of intense dialogue at our ministerial talks in Sigatoka, I’m sure you’ll all agree with me that it’s great to be out in the field and especially in the beautiful surroundings of Drasa, Lautoka.

Drasa has been a training and research facility for the sugar industry stretching back to colonial times.

But you’ll also be interested to know that the first commercial airline flight in Fiji was between Drasa and Suva 62 years ago, in 1951.

The airstrip that was used for that flight has long been overgrown and largely lost to history. But that flight was a significant moment because it was the beginning of Fiji Airways.

Our national airline, of course, now flies out of Nadi with its brand new Airbus A330s. And indeed, I will soon be going to France to take delivery of the third and final of these state-of-the art planes.

It’s also worth reviewing some of the history of the sugar cane research effort in Fiji as we gather here in Drasa for the opening of the new Head Office of the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji or SRIF.

It was once a division of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company of Australia or CSR, which began its operations in Fiji in 1880 and dominated the sugar cane industry for the best part of a century.

In 1973, the Fijian Government bought the sugar operations from CSR for $10-million and renamed it the Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited or FSC.

I have to say that the value of the research effort in agriculture generally, and sugar in particular, isn’t always appreciated as much as it should be by policy makers and bureaucrats.

By its very nature, research can involve lots of dead ends and blind alleys in the pursuit of solutions to particular challenges.

Our experts must be given adequate time and resources to perform their tasks to the highest standards and not be hamstrung or placed under unnecessary pressure by the standards that apply in other workplaces.

We don’t want arbitrary deadlines for our researchers. We want a culture of excellence and the best possible intellectual environment to achieve optimum results.

Time isn’t necessarily of the essence. The right result certainly is.

I’m told, for instance, that it can take up to 18 years to breed a new variety of sugar cane. That’s the time it takes to breed a new voter under our new Constitution. The point is that neither can be rushed.

But having said this, we all know how vital research is to the future sustainability of the sugarcane industry – the quest for higher yielding varieties, higher sugar content, higher fibre content, cane varieties that are disease resistant and drought tolerant. The search for new breakthroughs never ends.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This new complex has been built at a cost of around $1.3-million dollars.

It is a partnership between the European Union, my Government, the Fiji Sugar Corporation and sugarcane growers.

And on the subject of partnerships, I would like to make a couple of observations.

We deeply appreciate the European contribution of around $760,000 or 58 per cent of the cost of building this facility.

We also appreciate the European funding for laboratory equipment, the training of staff and the various research projects under the EU-ACP Research programme.

Ambassador, please convey our thanks to our valued European partners.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am sure you will agree that for any foreign aid or assistance to be successfully implemented, the Government and the nation must be consulted and have input.

It is not merely a question of being courteous and respectful, but is surely the best way to achieve real and sustainable outcomes. In other words, to direct the aid and assistance to the right people and in an overall sense, complement a nation’s development goals and wellbeing.

After all, aid must only be temporary but its effects must be lasting.

Working with our external partners, it is for Fijians to determine our national priorities, Fijians to implement them and Fijian institutions to work with ordinary people to achieve positive and lasting change.

Today, the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji has a new complex and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in bringing this project to fruition.

Let us all – Government, our development partners, the FSC, farmers, and NGOS – renew our collective commitment to work together for the benefit of the 200-thousand Fijians who depend on the sugar cane industry for their livelihoods.

We are at a critical turning point for the industry. When my Government assumed office, many people had simply written it off – an old industry on its last legs. But we were not prepared to allow the Fijian sugar cane industry to die on our watch.

Now our reforms show clear signs of producing a remarkable turnaround, even in the face of a challenging global trading environment marked by higher production and generally lower market prices.

As I told our ministerial meeting, confidence in the Fijian industry is growing, more land is being planted and our farmers have received a record payment for their efforts.

The Fijian sugar cane industry is very much alive. And with the assistance of the researchers in this wonderful new facility, we intend – working together – to take it to even greater heights, in the interests of the Fijian economy and all our people.

To our international guests, I’m glad you’ve had the opportunity to go beyond our ACP conference venue and see some of the real Fiji.

We bid you farewell and on behalf of all Fijians, I thank you for coming. Our discussions have been fruitful and conducted in an atmosphere of cooperation and goodwill.

We all hope you’ve enjoyed our hospitality and we look forward to seeing you in Fiji again.

With those words, I now have much pleasure in declaring the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji complex open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Fiji PM Bainimarama’s Speech at the 13th ACP Sugar Conference

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

On behalf of the Fijian Government and people, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to Fiji for the 13th ACP Ministerial Conference.

It is a great pleasure for Fiji to once again host the ACP Ministerial Conference on Sugar, having last done so six years ago, in 2007.  In June this year, we also had the privilege of hosting – and also chairing – the 43rd Session of the International Sugar Council, the global industry body.

Fiji is proud to contribute to solutions we seek to the many challenges facing an industry on, which the livelihoods of so many millions of our people depend.

It is their interests that must always be at the forefront of our deliberations, as we seek to secure their livelihoods, through a sustained industry, which includes secure markets. We need to expand economic opportunities, boost our national economies and lift the overall living standards of all our peoples. That is why it is critical that as ACP leaders we must maintain solidarity and a focus on the future.

For many of us, sugar cane is not just some incidental crop that can be easily replaced. It is a primary agricultural export, at the very core of our economies and a principal source income for huge segments of our populations – in Fiji’s case, 200-thousand people or more 20 per cent of all Fijians. In some ACP countries, sugar exports account for more than one quarter of GDP and 85 per cent of total agricultural exports.

Indeed, the Fijian economy has been built on the sugar cane industry. Before the growth of tourism and other sectors, we depended almost entirely on sugar for close to 100 years. Today our economy is more diversified and sophisticated, but sugar cane is still a significant industry. So for Fiji and many other ACP countries, a healthy market for our sugar spells a healthy economy and higher living standards, while a poor market spells the opposite.

As you all know, the global market environment for sugar has not been healthy. It has been characterised by higher production and lower prices, has severely tested us in recent years. Now, more than ever, we need a united front and at the same time understanding and a fair deal by our European partners.

In this area, as you all know, we have a considerable way to go. As we make the transition from what many viewed as the sacrosanct Sugar Protocol arrangement to the new Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), it is critical that adequate support and time is provided to ACP sugar producing countries. For Fiji this support has been sorely lacking. Disbursement of the promised Accompanying Measures Support Program (AMSP) has been politicised and Fiji has not received the fair share owed to it.

The negotiations of EPAs have been long and drawn out due to the inclusion of many non-trade issues. The unilaterally imposed changes to the European Commission market access regulation 1528 of 2007 has created further uncertainty as it threatens to remove access despite the fact that negotiations on full EPAs are incomplete. This premature end of market access could prove to be disastrous for the livelihoods and lives of the citizens in many ACP countries. Consequently it would also be detrimental to ACP – EU relations.

Indeed as we speak the Pacific countries represented by their Trade Ministers are currently in Brussels and will meet the EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht to negotiate in good faith.

We all hope that these challenges can be resolved in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and goodwill – with the understanding that any decision will have real impact on the lives on men and women and children in our respective countries.

I think I speak for everyone in this room when I say that we do not want handouts. What we want is for our people to benefit from their own sweat and toil by gaining fair and reasonable access to global markets and fair prices. This has long been the paradigm of our relationship with the European Union and has made an immense contribution towards sustainable economic development and the eradication of poverty.

The EU has remained a key market for our sugar exports despite some major challenges that our small and vulnerable economies have had to grapple with in recent years.  The sugar cane industries in many ACP countries embarked on major reform and restructuring programmes to ensure their long-term sustainability.  These reforms are still being implemented, and we now need certainty and consistency in our trade relationship with the EU, more than ever to allow these reforms to fully take root and flourish. The last thing we need now is more uncertainty.

Mr. Chairman,

Even if we manage to successfully negotiate mutually beneficial EPAs by the current unilaterally imposed deadline of 2014, we risk further unprecedented harm with the abolishment of the EU sugar production quotas in 2017.  As the ACP Group, we had in Mozambique in 2011, made the request in accordance with the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that quotas be maintained until at least 2020. This would provide the long-term stability and predictability necessary for continued investment in the sugar cane industries and enough time for any possible and successful restructuring and/or transition.

It is now apparent that our concerns and expectations were not fully taken into account and that our call for greater coherence in trade, agriculture and development policies was ignored by EU decision- makers.

This Conference presents an excellent opportunity to take stock of all these developments and assess the likely implications of the inconsistent support provided through the EU’s AMSP, the threat of end of market access by 2014 and the end of the EU quotas for ACP suppliers by 2017.  Based on the technical input and our deliberations in the proceedings, we can then develop appropriate strategies to chart the way forward.

We also need to examine the long-term viability and sustainability of our sugar cane industries, with the intention of shifting the focus from merely producing sugar to developing new uses for our cane crops. We badly need to diversify and add value in order to remain competitive and meet the many challenges facing us – including price volatility and changing market conditions.

We must look at all avenues to increase the revenue base of the sugar cane industry.  We must give serious consideration to cogeneration, bio-fuels and other viable uses in addition to the traditional by-products.

The ACP Sugar Research and Innovation Programme has made significant progress in this area and could assist our industries to benefit greatly from this research work.

New varieties of cane are being developed and in May, Fiji was honoured to host an international workshop on the nobilisation of erianthus, a sugar hybrid.

For our part, we are sparing no effort to revitalise the Fijian sugar cane industry, and I’m happy to say that we’ve begun to see encouraging signs that those reforms are working, despite the lack of support from our partners the EU.

Land that had fallen fallow is being replanted, more long-term leases are being renewed, confidence is growing, stability is returning and a revitalised industry is beginning to take root.

At the beginning of this season’s crop, I was able to announce a record cane payment to our farmers, as well as a high price secured for next year’s crop.

With the 2013 season well underway, I can confidently say that we are on the right path. It’s no longer just about keeping the industry afloat. We are more ambitious than that. In fact, our long-term goal is to increase production and diversify our industry – adding value to our crop – in order to limit our exposure to the uncertainty of price fluctuations for raw sugar.

Mr. Chairman,

We have huge challenges ahead.  Undoubtedly, at the end of the next few days, we will have defined and taken a firm decision on future strategies and actions for the short and long term to defend our position.  Needless to say, the ACP must maintain its unity and solidarity in order to successfully chart the way forward.

I look forward to the deliberations and assure you all of our support during your stay in Fiji.

You are here at an important time in our history. This has certainly been an eventful year.  In January, we assumed the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 Plus China for 2013 and are honoured to progress South-South cooperation agenda on a mutual development platform.

Domestically, on September 6th, His Excellency, the President of Fiji, gave his assent to a new Constitution that will take us to the first genuinely democratic parliamentary election in our history next year.

The 2013 Constitution embodies everything that my Government envisaged when it set out six and a half years ago to put Fiji on a path towards true democracy and tackle the corruption that was impeding our development.

For the very first time socio-economic rights, such as right to  economic participation, right to health and education, right to a just minimum wage, transport, housing, food and water and social security,  are guaranteed by the supreme law of the land.

It is the Constitution that will finally put us in the ranks of the world’s most liberal democracies. And it will provide a sound basis for lasting political stability and a platform on which to build a stronger and more resilient economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, once again, welcome to Fiji. It’s a great pleasure to have you here and I urge you all to take time out to enjoy our beautiful country and the hospitality of the Fijian people.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank You.


PM Bainimarama sugar conferenceThe Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, will open the 13th African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Sugar Ministerial meeting in Sigatoka on Monday.

The meeting will be attended by ministers and senior officials from the ACP group of countries, who are keen to maintain their preferential access to the European Union and an extension of the EU’s present quota system.

On the European side, the talks will be led by the most senior EU official to visit Fiji for seven years – its Deputy Director General, Development Cooperation, Marcus Cornaro.

Mr Cornaro will be giving the keynote address at the conference after it is opened on Monday by the Prime Minister, who also holds the sugar portfolio.

Next Thursday, both Mr Cornaro and Commodore Bainimarama will be at the opening of the Sugar Research Institute in Lautoka, which is introducing new technology for the Fijian industry and new strains of cane.

PM Bainimarama Closing Statement at the 43rd Session of the International Sugar Council

As we come to the end of the 43rd Session of the International Sugar Council, I would like to thank you all most sincerely for your active engagement during the three days of our deliberations.  On behalf of the Fijian people and Government, I express our appreciation to all members of the Organisation for making excellent contributions in today’s Council session as well as in the Workshop and committee meetings.

We have had an in-depth exchange on wide ranging topics on world sugar matters and related issues, including bio-fuels, ethanol and climate change.

Although circumstances differ from country to country, we are all faced with many of the same issues. We have examined these key issues during our discussions, and received the findings of expert studies. What we take away from this meeting will help guide us as we consider the options for improving our respective industries.

I would like to thank Dr. Peter Baron, the Executive Director, and his team for the excellent preparations for this meeting.  My thanks also go to all of the staff of the Fijian Government and sugar industry stakeholders who have contributed to the smooth functioning of this meeting.

This has been a very productive three days.

I wish you all a relaxing enjoyable excursion to the Plantation Island and a safe return trip home. I look forward to seeing you all in London in November.

Vinaka Vakalevu and thank you.

Fijian Prime Minister and ISO Chair Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama Closes the 43rd Council Session

PM Bainimarama – Speech at the Opening of the 43rd Session of the International Sugar Council

On behalf of my Government and the Fijian people, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to Fiji for the 43rd Session of the International Sugar Council.

This is a proud moment for our country. Fiji is deeply honoured to host such a wide range of experts, industry leaders and government officials from around the world to discuss the future of the sugar cane industry.

When I accepted the chairmanship of the ISC in London last year, I made a pledge that Fiji would do everything possible to advance the cause of this global industry and the millions of ordinary people the world over who depend on it for their livelihoods.

They look to us to keep the industry sustainable and prosperous at a time when instability and uncertainty are commonplace. World sugar prices remain volatile, and shifts in production in a number of large sugar-producing nations have drastically altered the marketplace.

Currently, global production is higher than it has been for a long time, up 3.2% from last season, outstripping demand. This means that the price of sugar is down, and global stocks are forecast to increase as excess sugar is held over to next year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although circumstances differ from country to country, we are faced with many of the same issues, primarily reliable access to markets – which is necessary to instil a degree of certainty into the industry that will help attract investment and drive reforms.

In the case of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries represented here, our highest priority relates to our relationship with the European Union (EU).

As almost all of the ACP’s sugar exports are to the EU, this is an issue of extreme urgency.

Of great importance for all ACP sugar-exporting countries is the EU’s review of its Common Agricultural Policy, which includes the Common Market Organisation for Sugar.

The ACP sugar-exporting countries, including Fiji, are seeking a five-year extension of the EU-ACP quota system from 2015 to 2020. These additional five years will give ACP countries added security as they continue to restructure, modernise and diversify their sugar cane industries to meet today’s challenges and demands.

For the Pacific ACP region, the issue of highest priority is the negotiation of a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU, which in terms of sugar, would allow for continued duty-free access to their marketplace.

The alternative is the EU’s interim EPA, which we regard as highly problematic. The EU has announced that Pacific countries that do not ratify this interim EPA by 2014 will lose duty-free access, including for sugar. Unfortunately, there are a number of contentious issues contained in the interim EPA that are unacceptable to us.

The interim EPA – as its name suggests – was never intended to be a permanent solution. A comprehensive EPA is the goal, and the EU should not move the goalpost at this late a stage.

An EPA that addresses the contentious issues and aspires to the region’s development goals is the only answer.

We call on the EU to enter these negotiations with the Pacific with a sense of urgency that matches our own.

The Council will be updated on all of the latest developments during our deliberations this week.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For many of the countries represented here, sugar cane is not just some incidental crop that can be easily replaced. It is a primary agricultural export, at the very core of our economies and the lifeblood of huge segments of our populations.

In some ACP countries, sugar exports account for more than one quarter of GDP and 85 per cent of total agricultural exports.

In Fiji, our economy has been built on the sugar cane industry. Before the growth of tourism and other sectors, the sugar cane industry was almost the sole contributor to the prosperity of our country for close to 100 years.

Even though tourism has now become the leading foreign exchange earner, sugar remains a major economic driver, providing livelihoods – either directly or indirectly – for around 200,000 Fijians – more than 20% of our population.

Therefore, my Government’s commitment to this industry is absolute and unwavering – to make sugar viable and prosperous again – to reverse the decline in production experienced in Fiji over the last couple of decades.

One of the truest indicators of the health of the industry is the faith ordinary sugar cane farmers have that it can provide them and their families with a decent living. When farmers leave the sugar fields, it means that faith has been broken. It means they no longer believe that the sugar cane industry that once supported their families can continue to do so.

This was an all too common state of affairs six years ago when my Government took office. From day one, it was clear that our most important task would be to restore faith in the industry. To let all stakeholders know that sugar in Fiji can once again prosper. And it will.

For Fijians, uncertainty was caused by a number of factors.

Cane quality, cane transport, general infrastructure, supply to our mills and the performance of those mills are all issues.

We also face an issue that is uniquely challenging in Fiji – the renewal of long-term land leases for sugar cane farming. These lease renewals – which were only given for thirty years – limited the ability for farmers to properly commercialise these holdings. Not only that, land tenure was also highly politicised, fuelling insecurity and uncertainty for both landlords and farmers.

At the top levels, for too long the industry was characterised by neglect, mismanagement, lack of financial and corporate discipline and corruption. We also had too many politicians interfering in the industry, using it as a means for personal political advantage – a way to win easy votes. The problem was that it was all talk and no action.

In fact, it was a betrayal of ordinary farmers, who were given false promises rather than constructive solutions and meaningful reforms. Is it really any wonder that many of them lost faith in the industry?

Over the past few years, my Government has started to right these wrongs with a comprehensive series of reforms.

We are sparing no effort to revitalise Fiji’s sugar industry and, recently, I’m happy to say that we’ve begun to see encouraging signs that those reforms are working.

Land that had fallen fallow is being replanted, more long-term leases are being renewed, confidence is growing, stability is returning and a revitalised industry is beginning to take root.

Two weeks ago, I was able to announce a record cane payment to our farmers, as well as a high price secured for next year’s crop.

As I stand here today, I can confidently say that we are on the right path. It’s no longer just about keeping the industry afloat. We are more ambitious than that. In fact, our long-term goal is to increase production and diversify our industry – adding value to our crop – in order to limit our exposure to the uncertainty of price fluctuations for raw sugar.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

International meetings such as this allow us to share our experiences, transfer knowledge and advice, and develop new networks. We have the opportunity to discuss trends and forecasts, and we will hopefully get a clearer idea – collectively – of what the coming years have in store.

There is a lot of ground to cover and I look forward to your active participation and some lively discussion.

I would like to thank the Executive Director, Dr. Peter Baron, and his team, for their hard work in preparing for our deliberations.

Before I invite Dr. Baron to give us an overview of developments on world sugar and an outline of our activities, I would also like to again welcome you to Fiji and say how proud we are to be chairing the International Sugar Council this year.

You are here at a critical time in our history – the development of a new Constitution and the introduction of genuine parliamentary democracy for the first time next year.

We urge you to take time out to enjoy our beautiful country and its unique culture. We have also put together a program, which gives you a taste of Fiji.

Thank you for your attendance and I now invite the Executive Director to address you.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.

Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama Presents Pension Cheques to Veteran Sugar Cane Farmers in Ba