25th Australia Fiji Business Forum
Brisbane, 17 and 18 October 2019
“Business Partners Across Three Centuries”
The 25th Australia Fiji Business Forum, arranged by the Australia Fiji Business Council and the Fiji Australia Business Council, was held in Brisbane on 17 and 18 October 2019 with the theme “Business Partners Across Three Centuries” reflecting the long and enduring nature of business relations between Australia and Fiji dating back to the 19th century. There were 104 attendees. In recognition of the importance of environment in Fiji the Forum adopted a policy of minimising single use plastics at the Forum.
The Fijian Government keynote address was delivered by the Prime Minister, Hon Rear Admiral (Retired) Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, and the Australia Government keynote address by The Honourable Mark Coulton MP, Australian Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government and Assistant Trade and Investment Minister. Other speakers included the Hon Premila Kumar, Fijian Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development and the Hon Mahendra Reddy, Fijian Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment, as well as a range of expert speakers in business, the economy and climate change.
The Fijian Prime Minister and the Australian Ministers’ addresses highlighted the strengthened bilateral relationship between governments highlighted by visits to Fiji in January and October 2019 by the Australian Prime Minister, the first bilateral visits ever by an Australian Prime Minister to Fiji in 49 years of indpendence, and by the Fijian Prime Minister’s Guest of Government visit to Australia in September 2019. Prime Minister highlighted that the private sector is the engine of growth, and emphasised that Fiji welcomed investment in Fiji by Australian investors, and encouraged Australian companies to closely examine the opportunities in Fiji. These opportunities include Fiji’s location as a commercial hub for the Pacific. The success of Kookai Limited’s fashion manufacturing business based in Fiji could be a model for other fashion houses to consider manufacturing operations in Fiji.
The Forum heard that Fiji is an upper middle income country which has experienced average economic growth of 3% over the last ten years. While global trade and economic conditions will have some impact on Fiji’s economy and growth the prospects of continued rates of similar levels of growth into the future are good.
There has never been a more exciting time to be doing business between Australia and Fiji, and for Australian companies to invest in Fiji.
The Australia Fiji bilateral relationship is a rich and diverse tapestry of many elements developed over a very long time, and is one of the most comprehensive bilateral relationships of Australia in the Pacific islands region. Reflecting this, the Councils wish to advance discussions with governments on some specific issues including:
- a comprehensive economic partnership agreement to provide greater certainty for investors and trade;
- improvements in quarantine arrangements for entry into Australia by goods from Fiji;
- improved facilitation for the movement of people between both Fiji and Australia including visa arrangements;
- implementing the agreement reached in 2017 between both countries aeronautical authorities to modernise by 2018 the bilateral Air Services Agreement which will assist grow Fiji’s tourism sector from its major market Australia, and at the same strengthen Fiji Airways..
- supporting partnering on best practice development with Fijian Government and Australian Government.
- taking up the invitation for improved collaboration offered by the Fijian Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development.
- taking up the suggestion in the Forum that there might be a whole of industry examination of the competitiveness of Fiji’s tourism sector, including in relation to industry specific taxes.
- greater integration of labour markets including by growing Fijians employed under the Pacific Labour Scheme.
- Improving Fiji’s Ease of Doing Business ranking.
The recently completed Joint Economic and Trade Study commissioned by the Australian and Fijian Governments following Prime Ministerial discussions in January 2019 will provide a framework for heightened dialogue between business and government on expanding the bilateral business and trade relationship. The Study was received by the Australia Fiji Business Council and the Fiji Australia Business Council shortly before the Forum and has been distributed to members who are invited to provide comments. The Councils will consult with members on their response to governments, and expect to engage together with governments in the near future to discuss the recommendations of the Study. In this context it is noted that the Australia Fiji Trade and Economic Relations (AFTERA) agreement which entered into force on 15 December 1999 and provides that there shall be regular meetings of government officials or business representatives (or both) to advance the bilateral business and trade relationship provides an existing mechanism for ongoing consultations on the Study findings.
The Forum was briefed that the Vuvale Partnership concluded in September 2019 between the Australian and Fijian Governments is a recognition of the desire of both governments to have a structure for managing the bilateral relationship across all its aspects and to create some certainty within governments about how the relationship will be conducted. The Australia Fiji Business Council and the Fiji Australia Business Council are committed to work with governments to give effect to the commitments in the Vuvale Partnership which are germane to business.
The Forum welcomed advice from Minister Kumar that the role of Investment Fiji will be focused on it investment promotion role and less of a regulatory authority which work is done by other agencies. It also noted that Fiji remains a PACER Plus negotiating partner and that a comprehensive study is currently being conducted of the opportunity and impact of PACER Plus on the Fiji economy and community which will guide the Fiji Government’ future approach.
Minister Kumar identified that reforms in the administration and management of cities and towns in Fiji will transform their administration and create opportunities for business co-operation in areas such as town planning, waste disposal, affordable housing and more. Presentations on climate change and on climate resilient infrastructure financing informed Forum delegates on the linkage between climate change, business and infrastructure development, and the role business can play. The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) creates opportunities for Australian business to engage in infrastructure projects and in building and construction.
Minister Reddy outlined the Fijian Government’s vision for the development of a commercially focussed agriculture sector.
Australian agricultural companies operating in Fiji Kava (kava) and Buderim Group (ginger) outlined their agricultural operations in Fiji including the challenges and opportunities for growing Fiji’s agricultural sector including regulatory issues in Australia.
While noting recent minor increases in personal importation regulations for kava into Australia, the Councils particularly welcome the recent commitment by the Australian Prime Minister to review commercial kava importation arrangements. Whilst kava is important in Fijian culture, it also has significant international commercial uses as a therapeutic good and is a significant export industry for Fiji. The current restrictions on commercial imports into Australia are a non-tariff barrier to trade and hold back the development of what is already a significant Fijian export commodity to other markets. The Councils request the Australian Government to approach this review in a manner consistent with its philosophical approach to free and open markets.
The Councils congratulate the parties to the PPP under which Australian company Aspen Medical Services has been contracted to provide health care services in Fiji for 23 years with the possibility of a further period. This will benefit business and community in Fiji with improved health care outcomes. It is an exciting development in Australia Fiji business relations and for foreign investment in Fiji.
The 26th Australia Fiji Business Forum will be held in Fiji in 2020.
18 October 2019.