Thank you very much, Trade Minister Koya.
David Aidney, President of the Fiji Australia Business Council, and members of the Council
Members of the Australia Fiji Business Council and Australian business delegation to Fiji
Ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here with you all today.
I am delighted to look out at the audience and see such a strong showing of business leaders from Fiji and Australia.
This Forum is an important event for our two countries.
It provides a valuable chance for both countries to come together and discuss new and emerging opportunities.
Australia's trade, tourism and investment relationship with Fiji is a priority for my government.
Austrade has led at least eight trade missions to Fiji over the past four years, involving over 100 Australian businesses.
I am very pleased that Austrade was able to organise a trade mission to coincide with this year's Forum, and that we have Australian businesses here today to learn more about the business opportunities that exist in Fiji.
This is my first time to Fiji, and I've been delighted to see first-hand the strength of ties between Fiji and Australia.
Our connections are deep and broad, in trade, investment, education and, of course, sport.
With Fiji facing the Wallabies at the 2019 rugby world cup, I know Fiji rugby coach John McKee has been spending time behind enemy lines.
I fear an upset may be on the cards.
Stepping up in the Pacific
Australia and Fiji also share a common vision of a strong and resilient Pacific.
In the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, the Australian Government identified five objectives of fundamental importance to Australia's security and prosperity.
And stepping up our support for a more resilient Pacific is one of them.
Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, has enthusiastically embraced this important agenda.
At this year's Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Nauru, she discussed challenges for the Pacific and helped set priorities for future cooperation.
Of course, helping the region also helps Australia.
A more prosperous and secure Pacific region reduces potential risks to Australia.
Greater engagement with the region contributes to security, stability, and sustainable and resilient economies.
This requires a more ambitious and creative policy agenda.
That is the essence of our Pacific 'step up'.
Our 'step up' is broad-based, covering three key areas:
- enhanced cooperation and greater integration between the Australian and Pacific economies;
- significant new investments in security, broadly conceived, including regional maritime security;
- and greater investment in skills and leadership, and in the connections between our peoples.
All three areas are equally important to give our 'step up' even footing, and to make the benefits last for both our countries and our region.
As Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, naturally the main focus of my efforts is on achieving the first of these: enhancing cooperation and integration between the Pacific and Australian economies.
Working with Pacific partners, we are committed to increasing jobs, enhancing skills, raising income and creating economic opportunities.
That is what our Pacific island partners have said they would like to focus on, and that is exactly what we have done.
Economic cooperation for mutual benefits
Building on our Seasonal Worker Programme, the new Pacific Labour Scheme – which started in July this year – allows an additional 2,000 workers from the region to take up work in rural and regional Australia for up to 3 years in growth sectors like agriculture, tourism and aged care.
The benefits are considerable, as I've witnessed first-hand in my hometown of Moree in New South Wales.
I was a farmer myself for 30 years, and I know Australian farmers are innovative, entrepreneurial and resilient.
If you take the unique skills, knowledge and strong work ethic of Fiji's farmers, and pair it with the skills they bring back to Fiji from Australia, then we have a clear win-win partnership.
The number of seasonal workers is set to grow in the years ahead, which is an opportunity for Fiji.
In Nauru last month, Minister Payne signed Memoranda of Understanding to bring Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu into the Pacific Labour Scheme, joining Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.
In time, I hope additional Pacific countries – including Fiji – will join the scheme.
We will extend access to Pacific island countries based on need, impact and progress on the PACER Plus regional trade agreement.
I see particular opportunity for Fiji to take advantage of this new scheme.
Fiji is a tourism giant in the Pacific islands, and many countries, including Australia, look to Fiji and its impressive efforts to grow the industry in a sustainable way.
With the new Pacific Labour Scheme, I envisage a time in the not too distant future when Fiji workers working in the tourism industry here could be placed in a sister hotel in Australia for a period of time.
Fijian men and women would gain new skills and experience, which they would bring back to Fiji and use to reach more senior management roles.
This is just one aspect of Australia's wider commitment to more labour mobility in the Pacific – which we know is a major priority for Pacific countries.
Australia benefits from Pacific workers assisting businesses in rural and regional Australia, and island countries benefit from the remittances they send home; and more importantly, the new skills and experiences gained.
A new Pacific Labour Facility will support labour mobility, helping to connect Pacific workers with Australian employers by matching skills with employer needs.
PACER Plus, a development-focused free trade agreement, provides arrangements for implementing this next generation labour mobility.
It's also designed to boost regional economic integration, lower trading costs, encourage investment, create jobs, and raise living standards.
Fiji's participation in the negotiations was welcomed by all parties, and contributed significantly to the final outcomes.
Since it was signed last year, parties have made good progress to allow its entry into force.
It is my view that Fiji is uniquely placed to benefit from PACER Plus.
Fiji's economy is strong, and the Government has solid reform credentials.
This country has robust and well-maintained infrastructure, and a pipeline of investments in productive infrastructure.
Fiji enjoys an effective health and education system, supporting a new generation of entrepreneurial talent.
With these strong foundations in place, Fiji is uniquely placed to advance in the global marketplace.
I recognise that trade agreements can take time to consider.
But I would like to use this opportunity to convey Australia's strong wish that Fiji joins the PACER Plus team.
Our strong and enduring bilateral relationship
As we strive for even deeper economic integration, it is important to note the strong economic ties between our countries.
Australia is one of Fiji's largest trade and investment partners.
In 2007, two-way trade was valued at just over $1.3 billion.
A decade later, this had risen to over $2 billion.
Australia is a major source of foreign investment for Fiji.
And Australia is Fiji's largest tourism market, making up 43 per cent of arrivals.
I recognise that Fiji has strong ambitions to increase agricultural exports and is actively seeking market access into the Australian and New Zealand markets.
We share this ambition.
My own electorate of Parkes in North West New South Wales relies on trade and market access for its economic livelihood.
I am pleased to note Australia's Department of Agriculture and Water Resources yesterday released a draft report recommending conditions to allow Fiji's exports of breadfruit to Australia.
We recently commenced work on a draft assessment for a risk analysis for fresh Capsicum fruit, including chillies.
This will be a key assessment for a commodity of significant market value for Fiji.
Of course, I am also pleased to highlight the role of Australian aid in building a stronger economic partnership with Fiji.
For example, our partnership with the International Finance Corporation is helping the Fiji Government to achieve its economic development priorities around improving small-medium enterprise performance.
This will drive Fiji's international trade competitiveness, and help stimulate private sector and foreign direct investment.
The partnership is set to generate 200 million US dollars in new private sector investment, and will economically empower 10,000 women by June 2020.
I am particularly pleased this partnership will prepare the foundations for a Special Economic Zone in Fiji's western region.
I was also pleased to learn about Australia's continued support to the Pacific's agriculture and horticulture sector through Australia's aid program – a program we call the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program.
As a farmer and now a politician, I believe it is vitally important that governments and the private sector work together to support an industry that is so important to many countries' cultural heritage and way of life.
PHAMA has worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji and a range of stakeholders to strengthen Fiji's agriculture and horticultural industry and the ability to access export markets.
Just last week, I understand that PHAMA led a joint business and government delegation to Tasmania, Sydney and Coffs Harbour to support Fiji's exports of fresh chilled sea urchin roe to Australia.
The delegation met sea urchin farmers and scientists in order to explore the long-term possibility of developing aquaculture for sea urchins in Fiji, rather than relying on wild harvest.
This is exactly the kind of practical assistance that, I'm proud to say, Australia's aid program provides.
I am confident that Australia and Fiji will continue to forge a closer and more productive partnership, and I look forward to seeing these gains in the years to come.
Thank you again to Trade Minister Koya and the respective business councils for the opportunity to attend this year's forum.
- Assistant Minister's office: (02) 6277 4607
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555