Well thank you very very much and can I start by acknowledging my colleague Trade Minister Koya, also the Presidents of the four business councils, the High Commissioners, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka.

I am delighted to be here representing Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo.

Unfortunately, Parliamentary commitments prevented Minister Ciobo from leaving Canberra to attend this important meeting of the ‘Fiji-Australia, Fiji-New Zealand, Australia-Fiji, New Zealand-Fiji Business Councils. 

I am also especially pleased to return to Fiji so soon after my last visit, which was about a month ago.

My focus then was to see firsthand the incredible work being done here to recover from the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston. 

I was touched by the hospitality shown to me then, in particular during a visit I made to Ra Province, to announce Australia’s program to rebuild schools and markets.

Australia remains as strongly committed today to helping Fiji with the ongoing recovery effort as we were on the 20th of February, the day the cyclone struck. 

And as I said last time, Australians are impressed by the strength and solidarity shown by Fijians and the leadership shown by their government at pulling together. 

Overall, Fiji’s economy has recovered well following the cyclone, though I am conscious of the great deal of work that needs to be done to restore agriculture and related livelihoods.

But I have come back to talk business and listen to the views of the Fijian and Australian business communities.

I would like to also say how much I welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments particularly in relation to redoubling efforts in the relationship between Australia and Fiji. As the Prime Minister said, we are neighbours and as such, it is incumbent on us in the neighbourhood to have good relationships but most importantly a framework within which businesses from both countries can operate.

Can I also say and reiterate his words on the importance of the connection between diplomacy and trade. In Australia, our economic diplomacy framework has been a key focus of our foreign policy and I am sure that Fiji will also find the embarking on a renewed economic diplomacy route a very important one.

The Prime Minister also spoke about a range of things this morning including the detention over the weekend of a number of prominent Fijians and the reactions to them.

The Australian Government is well aware of these events and are watching developments. We are viewing them from the perspective of a Government that strongly supports, as a matter of principle, the universal right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

However, as important as these issues are they are not the reason for my visit and it is not my intention to have a detailed discussion with you today about them.

This is a business forum and I am here to talk business and listen to business.

As I indicated earlier to the Prime Minister, whatever ups and downs might affect our government to government relationships from time to time, well developed business links should continue to exist and indeed thrive. And it is important that we ensure the right framework exists for them to thrive.

The good news is that demand for Fiji goods remains strong in Australia and New Zealand and vice versa.

And we all stand to benefit from the enormous economic dynamism and potential of our wider Asia Pacific and Indo Pacific region.

Today and tomorrow, you will have important discussions about how to grow and strengthen what are already enduring business relationships and how to build new partnerships and new wealth.

Fiji remains a very promising place to do business.

This is no accident.

Rather, it is the result of the diversity of Fiji’s economic mix, which includes tourism, construction, financial services, ICT services, a range of fresh and processed exports, a healthy garments sector and more.

Your recovery is the result of hard work, by businesses such as those in the room, to remain competitive in the face of sometimes rapidly changing circumstances. 

Your economic resilience is also a result of Fiji Government policies over the past few years which have seen Fiji progress along the road of serious economic reform. 

Work being done to rationalise and improve the performance of state owned enterprises is a perfect example. 

Just as the work of keeping a business competitive is never really done, neither is the work of economic reform ever really done.

Yes, I see Minister Koya smiling here in the front row!

It is certainly been the Australian experience that the two go hand in hand. 

Economic reformers need to be talking to business to find out what is working and what is not.

Business needs to be clear with government about the directions they want to take and perhaps sometimes to understand that high quality, lasting reform does not happen overnight.

That is where forums like this are so valuable, if we approach them with energy and intent.

The Australian Government has worked with business to move out of the shadow of the global financial crisis and declining investment in mineral resources and to drive our economy forwards. 

We have looked to unleash the potential of the private sector to innovate and build economic momentum, especially by deepening our links in the Asia Pacific.

We have worked hard to strike important new free trade agreements with the large economies of China, Japan and Korea.

And we have doubled down on seeking productive foreign investments in key sectors, to create jobs and grow the economy.

We recognise that to be competitive and to harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of prosperity, we need to embrace new ideas in innovation and science.

Innovation is important to every sector of the economy from information, communication and technology  to healthcare, education to agriculture, and defence to transport.

Innovation keeps us competitive. It creates jobs. And it will keep standards of living high.

And I am struck at how similar Australia’s economic priorities all sound to the main economic policies being pursued in Fiji today. 

Despite the many differences in our two economies, we often find ourselves solving similar problems.

And given those similarities, it makes sense that we stay active in working together to promote economic growth, grow incomes and create jobs.

A fortnight ago Fiji’s Reserve Bank Deputy Governor, Arif Ali, spoke publically about the importance of remittances to Fiji’s economy.

The Australian Government has widened the opportunities for Fiji workers to earn Australian wages on a seasonal basis.

We have uncapped the number of workers able to participate annually in the Seasonal Worker Programme.

We expanded it to the agriculture and accommodation industries. 

But Fiji’s potential goes much further. 

I would encourage Fiji to see Australia as a partner and a platform for linking into global value chains.

This is the real significance of the PACER Plus trade deal. 

Last week, Pacific Forum Leaders welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations on all fifteen chapters of the PACER Plus text and noted the timetable for the conclusion of the PACER Plus negotiations. 

I note Fiji has reservations about the text that Forum Trade Ministers had agreed in Christchurch last month.

We remain committed to working closely with parties to conclude market access negotiations by the end of October and for the Agreement to be signed by the end of 2016.

We are so close to achieving an unprecedented, high-quality and comprehensive agreement encompassing goods, services and investment. 

Fiji, as the region’s trading hub, will have much to gain and much to offer.

Fiji will benefit from increased market access, particularly in services and investment and improved cross-border processes. 

PACER Plus will provide Fiji a stepping stone for capitalising on existing and emerging markets beyond the south-west Pacific. 

As Leaders made clear in Pohnpei, Australia and New Zealand are committed to provide appropriate resources for the implementation of PACER Plus and to help Forum Island Countries make the most of market access opportunities in Australia and beyond.

We can help governments to enhance customs data systems and to operate biosecurity facilities just two examples of the many ways we hope to assist through our aid for trade programs.

PACER Plus will boost trade and investment across the whole region, producing jobs and growth, and raising living standards.

Before I finish, I will mention two initiatives Australia has taken that will increase opportunities available to Fiji businesses.

Firstly, Australia has set up a Business Partnerships Platform. 

This is the Australian Government reaching out to business to co-fund and collaborate on solving some of the most intractable development challenges in our region. 

All businesses working in the Asia-Pacific region are eligible to apply, and I would encourage you to look into the Business Partnerships Platform online.

And earlier this week, Austrade arranged for ten Australian construction and maintenance companies to visit Fiji to explore business opportunities servicing Fiji’s hotels and resorts as well as ways opportunities in the building and construction sector more broadly. 

I understand some of those businesses are represented here today including Bunnings, Petrolink Engineering, The Bidet Shop and Action Fasteners. I hope your visit was successful and you will return to Australia full of confidence and enthusiasm at the opportunities for doing business here in Fiji.

I was pleased to learn that this recent visit follows an even larger building and construction trade mission of 33 businesses that took place in April. Business representatives were very eager to learn about joint venture opportunities with Fijian companies to deliver on Fiji’s ambitious infrastructure agenda.

While any new business certainly helps Australian businesses, it should also help Fiji’s businesses secure competitive contracts and reliable and competitively priced supplies. 

So, with our shared commitments to increased exports, investment and private sector growth, Fiji and Australia, along with our good friend, New Zealand, are partners aligned for prosperity. 

Governments look to you, business leaders, to drive the trade and economic relationship between our countries. 

There is always room for improvement and new ideas, both in what we do as governments and what you do as businesses.

I am sure that our combined labour over the next couple of days will be productive.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

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