Thank you very much, Prime Minister Bainimarama.
It is a pleasure to have you here in Sydney, along with Trade Minister Faiyaz Koya, Agriculture Minister Inia Seruiratu and a contingent of Australian and Fijian business leaders.
Australia’s Minister for Trade, Steve Ciobo, is overseas at the moment, so he asked me to represent him here today, which I’m very pleased to do.
Events like these are important.
They provide a fantastic forum for current and potential importers, exporters and investors to hear about the very latest developments in Fiji and Australia.
They provide an opportunity for businesses to share their views on policy and regulatory issues that affect them.
And they provide a unique opportunity for businesses to discuss their particular interests with the key policy and decision-makers in Fiji.
I’m really pleased to see a diverse range of businesses in the audience today.
I know that Austrade has led at least seven trade missions to Fiji over the past three years, working with over 80 businesses to explore the opportunities that exist.
In my role, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting an opportunity to work with Fiji and its leaders over the past year or so.
So much so I’ve been to Fiji twice this year, along with other visits to major Pacific Island countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga.
It’s been a real pleasure to see the links between our two nations up close – in more detail than I’d ever appreciated before, even as a Queenslander and a keen devotee of rugby and rugby league.
Most Australians are deeply aware of the sporting links between Australia and Fiji – how could they not be, when we see such amazing players coming out of the Pacific?
As I’m sure many of you are, I’m very much looking forward to the Kangaroos playing the Fiji Bati in Suva tomorrow.
The match is a warm up for the Rugby League World Cup starting later this month in Australia, and I’m pleased to note Fiji will be playing two of their three pool matches in Townsville, in my home state of Queensland.
And I was chuffed to hear about the Classic Wallaby coaching clinic tour of the Coral Coast [on the south-west corner of Fiji’s main island] a couple of weeks ago – a great exercise in sports diplomacy.
Of course, the links between Australia and Fiji are much broader than our important sporting ties, and in these days of a global economy we are more closely entwined than ever.
The fact is, these are exciting and challenging times for Pacific economies like Australia and Fiji.
Our countries sit very much in the Indo-Pacific – a region of immense opportunity and change for the foreseeable future.
When we look north, to Indonesia, to Thailand, to Vietnam, India and China, and to other nations in Southeast Asia – we see a region fast emerging into the global spotlight.
Global patterns of trade are changing year by year – offering major opportunities for exporting economies like ours.
That huge amount of change is one of the big reasons the Government is currently working on a Foreign Policy White Paper, to help us chart our way in the years ahead.
As the White Paper will make clear, stronger ties with the Pacific are among our highest priorities.
This was affirmed by Prime Minister Turnbull at the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting, when he committed to a step change in Australia’s engagement in the Pacific.
At this year’s Forum Leaders’ Meeting, held last month in Apia, he announced a range of measures to deliver on this commitment, including:
- stronger partnerships for economic growth;
- stronger partnerships for security; and
- stronger relations between our people.
Australia believes that governments have a key role in promoting the partnerships that underpin sustained economic growth.
Our efforts to increase Pacific labour mobility are an important part of Australia’s work to strengthen economic partnerships.
Australia also believes that economic integration is critical to promoting economic resilience and improving livelihoods.
This is why Australia has been such a strong supporter of PACER Plus.
We believe that PACER Plus is a good agreement that will deliver sustained benefits to the region and support long-term growth and jobs.
PACER Plus will make it easier for businesses across the Pacific region.
It will remove barriers to trade, including tariffs, and by strengthening the application of international rules and best practice, it will strengthen the capacity of members to attract and retain investment.
We look forward to the Agreement coming into force and delivering real economic benefits to the region.
We of course continue to advocate to Fiji, as I did with Minister Koya yesterday, the advantages of joining PACER Plus.
We will always leave the door open for Fiji.
But the role of government is only part of the story.
A vibrant and growing business sector is critical to success between our two countries.
Ours is already a healthy relationship, but we are striving for more.
We enjoy a $1.9 billion two-way trade relationship, and it has been moving in the right direction.
Ten years ago it was $1.2 billion.
More than 15 per cent of Fiji’s merchandise exports are bound for Australia, surpassed only by the United States at 18 per cent.
And Australia is Fiji’s second largest source of merchandise imports, behind New Zealand.
In practical terms there are over 3,000 Australian businesses exporting to Fiji.
Around 350,000 Australians visited Fiji last year.
Fiji captures an impressive market share of over 55 percent of Australian tourists visiting the Pacific – not including New Zealand.
It is this tourism demand that underpins and supports our trading relationship, and contributes to Fiji’s sizeable, and growing, trade surplus.
Last year the value of Fiji’s goods and services exports to Australia was $1.3 billion, compared to Australia’s exports to Fiji of $540 million.
Australian investors have to date invested over $1.3 billion in Fiji, around one-sixth of all foreign investment in Fiji.
And we can’t overlook Fijian investment in Australia which is valued at $502 million.
This is impressive for a country of Fiji’s size.
These are remarkable numbers which demonstrate the sturdiness of our commercial and business ties.
It’s been very gratifying to see, in recent months, the first air services negotiations between our two countries since 2004.
We see huge scope for boosting tourism into Fiji, which is limited, right now, by capacity constraints – so it’s great to see that new seats have already been opened up.
I’ve also been very encouraged to see the progress we’ve been making on biosecurity and quarantine arrangements between our two countries.
I think the prospect of the ports at Suva and Lautoka establishing Sea Container Hygiene Systems is an exciting one, which will facilitate greater agricultural trade between Fiji and Australia and New Zealand in the future.
I’m also pleased that a key pillar of our aid program to Fiji is supporting private sector development.
Through our private sector programs, we are directly assisting businesses to innovate and expand.
The first five-year phase of the Market Development Facility’s work in Fiji, which concluded in June this year, created over 200 new jobs and generated an additional USD12 million in economic activity.
Complementing this, our ongoing support for structural and institutional reforms is building a better operating environment for the private sector.
This ambitious work includes projects to improve trade competitiveness, reform state-owned enterprises and strengthen Fiji’s civil service, in line with the priorities of the Fiji Government.
Further, an exciting new $12 million partnership between DFAT and the International Finance Corporation has boosted our support for policy and regulatory reform.
This partnership, which commenced in October 2016, has set a number of ambitious goals, including generating USD200 million in new private sector investment by June 2020 and improving the economic empowerment of 10,000 women.
Of course, our relationship is broader than just our economic ties, and the Australian Government is committed to strengthening and expanding our bilateral relationship with the Government of Fiji.
As Prime Minister Bainimarama said last October, “we have definitely embarked on a new era in Fiji’s relations with Australia”.
Substantial progress has been made in strengthening Australia’s relationship since Fiji’s election in September 2014.
We have an important, $75 million development assistance program with Fiji, which we have re-oriented to work directly with the Fiji government ministries and agencies.
The speed and magnitude of Australia’s response to Tropical Cyclone Winston matched the high regard in which we hold Fiji and its people.
And the way we delivered that emergency response under the strong leadership of Fiji’s Government was, I think, a case study in how two partners can work together in the face of great adversity to make a real difference to lives of tens of thousands of citizens.
I look forward to hearing from thoughts from the experts later this morning about rebuilding for the future after Tropical Cyclone Winston.
We also see a strong national interest in Fiji making an active and positive contribution to regional security and stability.
We support, for example, the force protection role the Fijian military has played for United Nations peacekeepers in the Middle East.
That’s why, in March, we sold Fiji – at mates’ rates - ten Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles to support Fiji’s UN peacekeeping missions in the Middle East.
And we’re strongly supportive of the greater role Fiji is playing on climate change.
Australia welcomes the progress Fiji has made as it prepares for its Presidency of COP23 in November.
Climate change is an issue for all countries, but I know that many Pacific nations feel the threat particularly keenly – and Fiji has been right to make that a focus of your work in the lead up to COP23.
Prime Minister, I know that you have a busy week ahead hosting the pre-COP meeting in Denarau.
Australia will be well represented by Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
Ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister Bainimarama, it’s been gratifying to see the progress made in the Australia-Fiji relationship since 2014.
Australia remains a committed partner for Fiji – an economic partner, a development partner, a partner when it comes to security issues, and to dealing with the big, complex challenges of our time.
Our two countries already do so much together, but there is scope for so much more, including on the trade and investment front, which I am sure this Forum will highlight.
Thank you, again, for coming to Sydney today – for our part, we very much look forward to working with you in the years ahead.
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