Venkat Raman –
New Zealand is keen to foster bilateral and trade relations with Fiji to enable the respective economies and peoples to reach higher levels of engagement, a Minster has said.
Describing the eight-years of diplomatic winter (from December 5, 2006 to September 17, 2014) as a ‘period of dislocation,’ Associate Foreign and Trade Minister Todd McClay said that the two countries were working to ‘build back better’ with a relaxed and balanced relationship between two small Pacific nations that have much in common.”
He was speaking at the annual conference of the Fiji New Zealand Business Council (FNZBC) held in Auckland recently.
According to Mr McClay, New Zealand has expanded its contacts with Fiji since the democratic elections held in September 2014 and that the areas covered included development assistance, defence, Parliamentary support, high-level dialogue and policy exchange.
Important Trade Partner
Stating that Fiji is the biggest trading partner in the Pacific, Mr McClay placed the value of trade at $867 million annually and that Fiji is New Zealand’s 20th largest trading partner ahead of Mexico, with exports of $373 million in goods and $148 million in services as at the end of the financial year on March 31, 2015.
“Strong trade in services is a welcome development for both countries as evidenced by a record number of New Zealanders visiting Fiji and Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways expanding their services accordingly. New Zealand companies are active in infrastructure and construction making a significant contribution to Fiji’s development,” he said.
Mr McClay said that his government was keen to see expansion of two-way trade and investment, with Fiji’s goods exports to New Zealand ($51 million) dominated by dalo (taro), other fresh produce, biscuits and apparel.
New Zealand’s pool of investment in Fiji is significant, although investment flows in more recent years have slowed and with broader trade and economic linkages expanding, the economies of both countries growing, and political relations in a good shape, there is increasing scope, he said.
Pacer at heart
According to Mr McClay, New Zealand has taken a ‘careful approach’ to the ‘Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER), signalling the country’s flexibility and desire to see practical outcomes.
Editor’s Note: Signed in 2001, the PACER Agreement included Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island countries. PACER Plus, launched in 2009, made available scope for negotiations for agreements.
“PACER Plus is not a traditional free trade negotiation in which domestic commercial interests drive our negotiating positions. Our overriding objective for PACER Plus is to equip better Fiji and other Pacific Island countries to raise standards of living, increase export capacity and employment opportunities, and promote sustainable economic growth by capitalising on potential for trade.
“New Zealand is delighted to welcome Fiji entry’s to the PACER Plus negotiations following a meeting of the parties in Wellington in October 2014. As a commercial and transportation hub, and one of only a few Pacific countries with a large formal economy and manufacturing sector, Fiji’s involvement in PACER Plus is making a significant contribution to meaningful regional economic integration,” he said.
Mr McClay claimed that PACER Plus negotiations have made ‘excellent progress’ over the past year and that the aim is to conclude negotiations in 2016.
In his welcome address, FNZBC President Chandra Sen said that the Conference was an important platform for exchange of information and ideas to promote an effective and mutually rewarding partnership between the two countries.
He said that Fiji is on the threshold of exciting developments and that the existing and emerging business opportunities would be mutually beneficial.
“Restoration of democracy and the guaranteed equality for all citizens are reassuring with high level of political stability. This has opened up new avenues for engagement. The forthcoming business mission will hopefully explore those opportunities,” he said.
Mr Sen had led a delegation of New Zealand and Fijian businesses to Fiji in April.
He said that one of the main aims of the visit was to raise awareness on Fiji’s economic and commercial potential and learn first-hand the friendly policies of the government.
“There is a win-win situation here. The Mission worked closely with the Fijian government and the private sector to put together a programme that would provide the visiting investors and businesspersons to explore specific business interests and meet with strategic contacts,” Mr Sen said.
According to him, the Programme included discussions with a number of ministries, government departments and agencies, meetings with private sector undertakings and networking events.
Among those who attended the Conference were New Zealand Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development Shane Jones, FNZBC President Chandar Sen, Craig Strong and Fiji’s Acting High Commissioner Mere Tora.
Robert Falvey was the Master of Ceremonies.
- Todd McClay with Chandar Sen and Renu Chand at the Fiji New Zealand Business Council Conference
- Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Chandra Sen and Y P Reddy at the Conference