• John Luxton

Minister of Commerce, Hon John Luxton, told the Fiji/New Zealand Business Councils' Joint Conference in Fiji on Saturday, that the pace and direction of regional and global change was a challenge for small Pacific Nations such as Fiji and New Zealand, and should not be underestimated.

"This is a timely and important opportunity to consider the topic freeing up trade in the South Pacific. Globalisation cannot be stopped. It will march on. And as it does, gaps and inequalities between those who competitively develop their economies, and those who do not, will continue to grow," the Minister told the Business Council meeting.

Pacific Island countries faced the challenge of deciding whether to try to move with the change or not, the Minister said. "Most of the rest of the global community will continue to liberalise. Being left behind, as other continue to evolve and change, means slower growth and lowering standards of living. Those slow to keep up become inefficient, stifle private sector development and face increasing pressure for migration," he said.

Mr Luxton said that New Zealand's response to globalisation as a small nation had been to change its direction from one of heavy protection to one which opened up to trade and competition progressively. This had improved New Zealand's position.

"While New Zealand has been buffeted by the Asian situation we are fundamentally sound as a result of 15 years of restructuring. We have become more flexible, responsive, innovative and market focussed. I am confident that our prospects for recovery will be assisted by New Zealand's strong financial fundamentals, prudent Government policies, and enhanced international competitiveness. We have reformed to achieve smaller, more efficient government, a flexible labour market, low inflation and floating exchange rates.

But New Zealand still has work to do he said. "We are now looking at a number of reforms, for example local government reform in roads and transportation, water supplies and amalgamations. We cannot afford to put up expensive barriers or to subsidise less efficient parts of our economy. We must continue to lower costs of doing business, open up trade, and make ourselves more internationally competitive," Mr Luxton concluded

The Fiji Government was represented by the Honourable Paul Manueli, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade. Also present were their Excellencies the New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, Mr Tia Barrett and the Fiji High Commissioner to New Zealand, Mr Isimeli Bainimara and 61 delegates.