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In order to let the world know that the Pacific is open for business, a Pacific Panel for Indo-Pacific Business Forum was hosted by the Ambassador of the United States of America Joseph Cella.
Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum while speaking at the event Wednesday said that it was critical for Fiji to seek new partnerships and strengthen existing alliances in light of the devastating socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on the region.
The A-G added that “we must commit ourselves to pursuing a policy environment that promotes sustainable growth based on trade, open cross border investment, free enterprise, transparency opportunity, inclusiveness and good governance”.
The A-G also commended the U.S government for entering into a trade investment framework agreement (TIFA) which encompasses all these goals.
“Fiji just signed this agreement (TIFA) with the USA earlier this month which came into effect on the 15th of October. We want to move quickly to see how we can take advantage of it, to address our near-term problems, also to open up truly valuable opportunities for trade and investment.”
In addition the A-G said that the US-Fiji TIFA includes an important provision for the participation of our neighbours, specifically allowing for inviting like-minded governments of the Pacific Island region to participate as observers in Fiji-US Business Council on Trade and Investment meetings.
“This is critically important as Fiji has positioned itself as an economic, transport and telecommunications hub of the Pacific. We believe it should be redounded to the benefit of all our neighbours as well as Fiji. There is a hope that we can use the TIFA process to help give the entire region the economic growth and economic sustainability and stability it needs particularly as we quickly transition into green and blue economies.”
The A-G said that as Fiji emerges from this current crisis and continues to confront the challenges of adapting to climate change and developing truly sustainable economies, trade and investment with the United States and other developing countries will be critical and essential.
“There are a lot of goods that can be bought in from the USA, we need to be able to address issues such as biosecurity through its measures and create those pathways.”
Furthermore the A-G said that Fiji had a trade deficit of about 3 billion dollars prior to the pandemic which is equivalent to about 27 percent of GDP so the Fijian Government was looking at increasing exports as imports will significantly reduce this year due to less demand for goods and services.
Despite borders still being closed, freight flights to Los Angeles have been ongoing and in relation to the U.S, nearly 80 to 85 percent of all the freight that Fiji Airways has been carrying from Nadi to LA has been agricultural produce.
This includes the significant amount of yaqona which is indicative of the huge demand for kava in the U.S. Recent months have also seen a significant amount of turmeric exported from Fiji.
With relation to the tourism sector, the A-G said that the #Fijian hospitality and the Fijian people’s ability to deal with people has seen a demand for retirement villages and retirement resorts.
“We have a lot of people working in California as caregivers and those retiring can actually return. The USA, Australia and Japan have a large portion of their population over the age of 60. A lot of these people will need looking after and will need a place where there are good caregivers and Fiji has the opportunity. We would like to see those retirement villages be developed in Fiji because it creates sustainable employment and has capital infrastructure which goes along with it.”
Speaking on investment in infrastructure, the A-G highlighted that the Fijian Government in the past 10 years has made major investments in infrastructure and that it was critical to build resilience in Fiji’s infrastructure as this was important in respect of climate change.
“Apart from hard infrastructure like roads, bridges and jetties, we also have utilities connecting people to electricity, reticulated water systems and of course telecommunications. We have a number of plans in that respect.”
“But the idea is to also ensure we take convivence of the fact that the plights of the countries are the encroaching waters.”
The A-G said that in Fiji’s case, there were about 43 villages that needed to be relocated to higher ground, three villages have been relocated while the fourth one is on the way.
“That is critically important. We have set up a relocation trust fund.”
The Indo-Pacific Business Forum is a premier public-private event organised by the U.S government and the U.S Chamber of Commerce. More than 1,000 people will be joining virtually for two days of programming.
Kiribati High Commissioner to Fiji David Teaabo, Nauru High Commissioner Michael Aroi and Tuvalu High Commissioner to Fiji Temate Melitiana were also part of the penal team alongside Ambassador Cella.
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