Ardern’s visit creates new opportunities for closer engagement

Ardern’s visit creates new opportunities for closer engagement

Venkat Raman in Suva
February 26, 2020

Bainimarama greets Ardern after the bilateral meeting on February 25, 2020 (Facebook)

From all accounts, the visit of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden to Fiji has set the stage for higher levels of bilateral engagement with improving prospects for trade, tourism and investment on the one hand and greater participation in Fiji’s community and social welfare sectors on the other.

The four-day visit (from February 24 to February 27, 2020) of Ms Ardern to Fiji- her first as the Prime Minister was eventful and devoid of any tension. She scored well at every meeting- be it bilateral talks with her Fijian counterpart Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama and his officials or a social gathering at ‘Rise,’ a Settlement Programme, with her innate nature of being straight forward, humble and most important of all, genuine.

Details of official meetings appear elsewhere in Indian Newslink print and web editions and social media and will continue online.

Bainimarama and Ardern lead their delegations at the bilateral meeting on February 25, 2020 (Facebook)

Strategic time

The visit also came at the right moment as Fiji is getting ready for the next phase of economic and industrial development and a meaningful engagement, orchestrated by pragmatic political approach will be mutually beneficial.

The warming up of the two countries was evident throughout the visit, with Mr Bainimarama extolling the leadership qualities of Ms Arden and the common causes that she champions as the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

“The world needs more leaders like you,” he said during a media conference following their bilateral talks on February 25, 2020.

New Zealand and Fiji have entered a new era of friendship, an era defined by mutual respect and equality, he said.

“Today, our partnership sits at unparalleled strength, as Prime Minister Ardern’s personal commitment to the Pacific has built new bridges of cooperation upon the foundation of trust and openness our governments know today,” he said.

Jacinda Ardern at Women Leaders luncheon hosted by High Commissioner Jonathan Curr in Suva on February 26, 2020 (Facebook)

Regional economic opportunity

The two leaders discussed at length new avenues of regional economic opportunity.

Mr Bainimarama said that the talks included building climate resilience and climate-focused financial products, providing good housing, expanding access to home ownership, adding greater convenience and liveability to our urban centres, sustainably managing our farms and fisheries, building capacity in education and training and opening new flows of trade, technology and expertise.

“We can look within our region and at each other, to ride out the global economic headwinds we face, both now and on the horizon.

“Fiji and New Zealand are both in the midst of ambitious agendas to revolutionise our citizen’s wellbeing. In Fiji, we have vastly expanded our social safety net to cater for those most vulnerable in Fijian society. We have extended maternity leave to 98 working days, established paternity leave and established Family Care Leave for the first time. And we are keen to fine tune our systems by learning from New Zealand’s goal to set the wellness of their people as the benchmark for good policy, from mainstreaming mental health to furthering women’s empowerment,” he said.

As he mentioned, Fiji-New Zealand relationship is special since both leaders know the possibilities for their partnership extend far beyond our patch of ocean.

“From Tuvalu to the halls of the UN General Assembly, our elevated voice on the world stage has transformed the Pacific from a region left off maps to one which loudly and boldly defends humanity’s greatest interests.  

Jacinda Ardern preferred to sit on the floor with women at the Rise Informal Settlement in Tamavua, Suva on February 26, 2020 (Facebook)

Partnership with Fiji Police

Among the highlights of the visit was the announcement of a new Partnership programme between New Zealand Police and Fiji Police.

The Programme will focus on combatting transnational organised crime and enhancing investigative skills.

The programme will see (a) New Zealand Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) support to the Fiji Police forensic laboratory to ensure successful prosecutions following drug seizures (b) enhanced Fiji Police leadership and capability through provision of technical assistance to the Proceeds of Crime Unit and provision of New Zealand Police trained tracker dogs (c) the roll out of the UNDP ‘First Hour Programme’ in Fiji.

Ms Ardern said that Partnership Programme will address on priority for both governments, cooperation to reduce crime in the Pacific, especially on drug trafficking.

“The New Zealand Government will be investing $11 million over three years into the Programme which will enhance the capability of the Fijian Police while helping to disrupt drug trafficking in our region. In the same way, we cooperate on issues that affect the whole Pacific like climate change, Fiji and New Zealand will work together to combat transnational crime and drug trafficking, which are having an increasingly negative impact across the region,” she said.  

“The more we can do to prevent countries like Fiji being used as a transit point for trafficking, the more we can stop drugs arriving on New Zealand’s borders. This police partnership programme highlights the deepening of relations between New Zealand and Fiji and is an important step in the strengthening of a key institution in Fiji,” Ms Ardern said.

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