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Goff Address to the NZ/Fiji Business Cl conference

Phil Goff Address to the NZ/Fiji Business Council conference

Hon Tomasi Vuetilovoni, Hon Kaliopate Tavola, Presidents John Williams and Digby Bossley, the High Commissioner of Fiji Mr Bal Ram, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be here today at the New Zealand/Fiji Business Council Conference. I would like to thank the Fiji Minister for Commerce, Business Development and Investment for his comments, in addition to the contribution of other speakers at this conference on topics which will help you pursue your business interests.

New Zealand’s trade with the Pacific region totals $1.2 billion annually. For the year ended December 2002, New Zealand exported $284 million worth of goods to Fiji, a healthy 14% increase on the previous year. It was part of a two-way trade that totalled $339 million. Fiji is a significant trade partner for New Zealand and New Zealand is a significant source of tourists to Fiji with tourist numbers rising to 66,000 last year. The value of this tourism to Fiji helps offset the imbalance of merchandise goods in our trade.

Trade is a significant part of the bilateral relationship between New Zealand and Fiji. New Zealand is pleased to be able to contribute, through NZAID, $100,000 per year for the Business Council to act as a source of funding for training and other development initiatives for businesses in Fiji. I thank Business Council members for their hard work and commitment in this regard.

Only two weeks ago I was present at a meeting in Suva hosted by the Fiji/New Zealand Business Council where I was updated on their activities and the new website. This was part of the visit I made with Hon Marian Hobbs and a delegation of 45 New Zealanders. It was the first official bilateral visit by a New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the new Fiji Government, and it was the largest delegation to visit Fiji in many years.

While the delegation did not have a specifically business focus, it did include senior representatives from the New Zealand business community and was very useful in raising the profile of the Pacific in New Zealand and in increasing New Zealand decision-makers’ understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Fiji.

All key players with whom New Zealand Ministers met re-affirmed the need for stability. There seemed to me to be real determination and commitment to end the damage that successive coups have done to Fiji since 1987. This was apparent in commitments made by Ministers; the Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Emeli Ganilau; the Commander of the Royal Fiji Military Forces, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, and by a cross section of Fijians.

Although there are some important challenges to be faced, Fiji’s economic performance is strong and this looks set to continue. Even with the impact of Cyclone Ami, the Fiji Reserve Bank expects Fiji to grow at a rate between four and five percent. The performance of Fiji’s tourism sector has been particularly impressive in recent years. With New Zealand’s economic indicators also appearing resilient, the prospects for increased trade look good.

As always the global environment provides challenges for both Fiji and New Zealand. Fears over terrorist actions in response to the war in Iraq and concerns about the spread of SARS are likely to prompt people to holiday closer to home. Of course, this probably means even more New Zealanders holidaying in Fiji rather than further afield.

And there are considerable opportunities for further growth ahead.

My trip to Labasa illustrated the potential Fiji has for agricultural development. We are all aware of the vital role that the sugar industry plays in Fiji’s economy and in the welfare of its people. The need to reform the industry is clear. Adjustment costs are high, perhaps involving the loss of as many as 7,000 to 8,000 jobs. While measures may need to be taken to mitigate the effects of this, avoidance of change is not a realistic option.

Fiji’s rural areas have huge resources of land and people that could be developed into important enterprises. Careful management of Fiji’s maturing mahogany resource could provide a healthy income stream for years to come. New Zealand’s experience in the forestry industry suggests that there are opportunities for Fiji and New Zealand companies to work in partnership – in harvesting, training and managing the resource. My visit to the University of the South Pacific demonstrated there was big potential for development of aquaculture.

A new industry that we were introduced to – Fiji Natural Water – has developed exports markets for mineral water worth $5 million a year.

There may also be opportunities in the fishing industry. Tuna resources in the pacific total a third of the world’s tuna supplies with an estimated annual worth of US$2 billion. Pacific countries get only 10 percent of this value and clearly we need to work together to ensure that both the development of resources is sustainable and that a greater level of benefits accrues to local countries.

Fiji has requested that New Zealand review the requirement under SPARTECA that products must have 25 percent Forum Island Country content. While New Zealand is placing its main focus for Pacific trade agreements on full Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) negotiations, my colleague Hon Jim Sutton is looking at the SPARTECA issue and hopes to have a decision by the end of the year, when he may also be able to visit Fiji.

As an agricultural product exporter, New Zealand places great importance on its biosecurity controls. The outbreak of BSE in the UK graphically demonstrated the damage that disease can do, and we have established strict standards to prevent it entering New Zealand.

We acknowledge that Fiji has had difficulty providing the information that New Zealand requires to permit beef imports, and so New Zealand has offered technical assistance to resolve the issue. In the interim New Zealand has extended the arrangement that allows the importation of beef products from Foods Pacific Limited.

The bilateral relationship is underpinned by a history of strong and close ties. New Zealand looks forward to re-entering the full engagement of the relationship when remaining constitutional issues are finally settled after the Supreme Court case next month.

When I was in Fiji I noted that the New Zealand government was looking to extend Fiji citizens the opportunity to work in New Zealand under the Pacific Access Category.

Our Ministers of Immigration and Pacific Island Affairs announced at Easter the provision of 250 places under this category for Fiji nationals of all skill levels. The applicants will be drawn from a ballot, must have a job offer in New Zealand and meet relevant language, health and character requirements. Fiji will join Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati as countries eligible for the scheme based on our close people-to-people links and shared histories.

I announced in Suva the creation of a further strand in the relationship: the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, which will receive $675,000 from the government this year.

The purpose of the Foundation is to increase cooperation between New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours through media, cultural and public affairs programmes; through academic excellence in Pacific issues, and through an exchange of views and information about Pacific and New Zealand issues. It will also develop projects that will benefit New Zealand and Pacific Island businesses. I hope that you will take an interest and contribute to the Foundation’s efforts.

May I conclude by saying that New Zealand and Fiji have enjoyed a long and close relationship. This includes strong people-to-people links with 40-50,000 people of Fiji origin now living in permanently in New Zealand.

In the area of defence our forces have cooperated together in peacekeeping operations including in the Sinai, East Timor and currently in Bougainville.

There are strong academic linkages too and I note that Hon Tomasi Vuetilovoni, Hon Kaliopate Tavola and HE Bal Ram are also eminent graduates from New Zealand universities.

On the sporting field New Zealand owes a huge debt to Fiji with at least eight brilliant Fiji players currently contributing to our Super 12 teams. In response we have made a modest contribution to Fiji coaching skills.

In the area of development assistance we are working to further expand and strengthen our relationship. On international issues such as the Kyoto Protocol and the conflict in Iraq, New Zealand and Fiji have been like-minded.

We have also been cooperating together on security issues, focussing particularly on trans-national crime and measures to combat terrorism. I look forward this year to the full restoration of our relationship. I wish delegates well for the remainder of the conference.

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