Fiji-NZ Business Council warns trade is at risk
Fiji – New Zealand Business Council
Friday, November 20, 2009
Available for immediate release
FNZBC encouraged by collective voice but warns trade is still at risk
Since the expulsion of New Zealand's acting High Commissioner and Australia’s High Commissioner earlier this month, key business interest groups in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia have come out of the closet to express their views on how trade in Fiji and the wider pacific could be effected by the state of government-to-government relations.
In the past week a whole host of events have taken place concerning pacific trade and international relations. And while the Fiji New Zealand Business Council (FNZBC) is encouraged by movements in the Pacific trade realm and the collective call for dialogue and democracy, it warns that trade is still at risk.
Annual trade between New Zealand and the Pacific is over $1 billion dollars with New Zealand-Fiji trade being the largest contributor of $434 million, and New Zealand enjoying a massive surplus profit from Fiji of $292 million. Although this sounds impressive, trade between New Zealand and Fiji is certainly not secure with China recently boasting increased Pacific trade figures of $1.2 billion. The expansion of China through trade into the Pacific directly challenges New Zealand’s traditional stronghold on trade with Fiji and consequently the Pacific.
At the APEC conference in Singapore this week US President Barack Obama endorsed free trade talks and a free trade bloc for the Pacific. This comes at a time when New Zealand is not actively facilitating direct trade with Fiji, and consequently the wider Pacific, with Fiji being the regional trade port.
With the reintegration of NZAID into the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, funding for capacity building of existing and new industry in Fiji has ceased. Although Fiji does not have a New Zealand Trade Commissioner and NZAID funds, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and ADB are prepared to help grow Fiji’s economy and have recently held initial talks with the Fiji Government, businesses and NGOs with the aim of providing financial assistance, an audit of economic climate, and to look at practical ways to move forward. With suboptimal trade and real threats of current trade declining, the time is well overdue for the New Zealand Government to assist trade in Fiji by appointing a Trade Commissioner and allocating aid for economic development.
The New Zealand government states it has no trade and economic sanctions against Fiji. Although without NZAID or a New Zealand Trade Commission this policy statement by the New Zealand Government seems hollow.
New Zealand’s foreign policy and sanctions tightly targeted against the members of the regime does not translate into practice in general experience for Fiji citizens. For example generic travel bans on all Fiji citizens serving on government or quasi government boards only seem to undermine governance and social stability.
The recent announcement by the Fiji Government of a new national dialogue is a constructive and positive step forward to set down the ground work for a new constitution and new democratic system by 2014.
The FNZBC encourages the Fiji Government to foster a more favourable foreign investment environment for small to medium size businesses to drive Fiji’s economy in such difficult times by removing regulatory restrictions such as the $250,000 minimum investment criteria. Competition in a free market promotes best practice standards, removes complacency, and ideally delivers better service and value to the Fiji public. This will go along way in building confidence and trust, for current and future investors in Fiji, and become the bedrock for significant new investment above the current criteria threshold of $250,000.
As trade between New Zealand and Fiji dwindles and moves north with both the New Zealand and Fiji Governments pointing fingers across the Pacific at each other, the FNZBC again implores both governments to move towards dialogue instead of corresponding conditions and deadlock.