Building Trade Ties at the 23rd Australia-Fiji Business Forum
The #23AFBF took place from 12-13th October, 2017 at the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney, hosted by AFBC and FABC
— By AFBC
The 23rd Australia-Fiji Business Forum was held in Sydney last week to discuss bilateral trade and investment partnerships. The event commenced with an opening cocktail reception hosted by Swire Shipping and a Westpac Pacific Official Forum opening dinner which included Australian-Fijian international sportswoman Cassandra Staples as the main speaker. This was followed by a full day program at the InterContinental Hotel, Sydney on 12th and 13th October.
The Business Forum attracted 109 participants including senior business, government and industry representatives, with a total of over 70 organisations represented from across Australia and Fiji.
The event was a huge success with strong attendance and great participation from all involved. The Forum, which was first held in Fiji in 1987, has since grown to be a major event in the bilateral business calendar which generally alternates between Australia and Fiji each year. This is testament to the business community’s strong level of engagement and interest in Fiji as well as the benefits that accrue from bilateral relationships in the Pacific, particularly in various sectors such as agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.
The Prime Minister of Fiji, the Hon Rear Admiral (retired) Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, and the Hon Keith Pitt MP, Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment delivered their respective government’s keynote addresses. The Forum was also addressed by the Hon Faiyaz Koya MP, Fijian Minister for Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources, and the Hon Inia Seruiratu MP, Fijian Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management. There were also a range of experts in economy, investment, disaster recovery, agriculture, public enterprise and the Fiji’s export and investment marketing.
The keynote addresses at the Forum highlighted the long and enduring history between Australia and Fiji who share a genuine affinity and shared interest of facilitating community and business relationships.
During the event, there was a strong emphasis placed on Fiji’s robust economy which has now experienced eight consecutive years of economic growth due to consistent fiscal policies. This growth is predicted to continue into the future making it an attractive place for investment and private-public partnerships.
The aim of the Fijian Government’s trade and economic policy is for Fiji to be a vibrant, dynamic and internationally competitive economy serving as the hub of the Pacific. With Fiji’s foreign exchange reserves at the highest level in history, this has enabled the Reserve Bank of Fiji to further loosen controls on foreign exchange remittances.
This outcome couldn’t come at a better time for Fiji where Australia has announced a desire to form stronger ties with its Pacific neighbors as one of its highest priorities, as affirmed by Prime Minister Turnbull at the 2017 Pacific Islands Forum Leader’s Meeting. Australia has committed to stronger partnerships for economic growth, which is consistent with its view 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.
However, it was noted that a range of policy adjustments could assist the Fijian Government’s tourism objectives including the reform of air services between Australia and Fiji. This is set to improve airline competitiveness, efficiency and profitability as well as ease the cost of a 25% tourism tax burden currently placed on Fiji’s tourism sector and would minimise the high airport departure tax which was identified in a recent survey by Tourism Fiji as directly contributing to Fiji being perceived as an expensive destination.
The Forum also heard that while Investment Fiji processes foreign investment applications speedily, there are other processes within the Fiji Government which lead to delays and costs for foreign investors and inhibit Fiji’s goal of becoming a vibrant, dynamic, and internationally competitive economy that serves as the hub of the Pacific. Yet it was noted that the Fiji Government is aware of the need to improve its ease of doing business index and is encouraged to review business policies in order to streamline processes related to foreign investment proposals and minimise the risk of foreign capital choosing to go elsewhere.
Presenters on Cyclone Winston recovery program identified material and labour shortages which compounded costs and delays in the reconstruction schedule and mentioned the importance of appropriate building and constructions standards for the future. Also, a framework model of analysis for natural disaster response was presented.
Agriculture is a potential powerhouse for economic growth. It is the source of employment for 83% of Fiji’s rural population and comprises 8.1% of Fiji’s GDP. There are significant opportunities for investment in the agriculture sector for import substitution and export growth including though some restructuring of current farming practices and scale. There is also a need to address current limitation on export freight capacity by air for perishable food products to enable further growth.
But the positives continue to outweigh the challenges. Buderim Group, an Australian public company with a 75 year business history, has been involved in the ginger production and export business in Fiji for the last twenty years and identified opportunities for further growth in this product. The Fiji Development Bank (FDB) is the major investor in the agricultural sector and offers opportunities for joint ventures with appropriate investors in a wide range of other sectors including forestry, marine products, mineral water, ICT and audio visual. The success of niche, high quality manufacturing businesses in Fiji have been applauded for leveraging Fiji’s highly skilled and articulate work force, its position on the International Date Line and its continually improving ICT capabilities, with particular acknowledgement made of the success of Kookai, one of Australia’s most globally recognised fashion brands.
It has been great to work in partnership with the Fijian Government and Fiji Australia Business Council to deliver this event. You can learn more about the Fiji Australia Business Council here. The Forum was wholly funded by sponsors and attendance fees by delegates. We thank all our sponsors for their support of this event. These include DIAMOND: Westpac Pacific and ANZ Banking. PLATINUM: Pronto Software. GOLD: Gibson Freight, Swire Shipping, Newcrest Mining Limited, Neptune Pacific Line. BRONZE: Hydroflux.
We look forward to seeing delegates at our next Australia Fiji Business Forum to be held in Fiji in 2018.
Download the event handbook here.
View event photos here.
Download the 23AFBF Outcome Summary.
Pictured L-R: Mr Dave Aidney, President of the Fiji Australia Business Council, Mr Geoffrey N Shaw, President of the Australia Fiji Business Council, the Hon Keith Pitt MP, Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and the Prime Minister of Fiji, Rear Admiral (retired) the Hon Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.
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