Republic Of Fiji Islands Major-general Hon Sitiveni RabukaPrime Minister
Honourable Prime Minister, Mrs Rabuka, we are delighted to welcome you to New Zealand.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the links between Fiji and New Zealand are close and longstanding.
As neighbours we are linked by ties of family, commerce, geography and a shared historical experience of defining our nationhood out of a legacy of colonial rule.
At the same time we are distinct, and each country has a heritage of which we are rightly proud.
In that mix of shared interests and diversity our relations have had to evolve a new maturity in recent years. We have watched, as friends and neighbours, Fiji's political evolution since the 1960's.
This hasn't always been an easy or comfortable process for either of us. Our relationship could not be portrayed as one of mutual complacency particularly over the last ten years. On the contrary, we have each had to work hard to understand the other's situation and viewpoint.
I, for one, see that as a sign of strength, not weakness, in the links between us.
In politics, on the rugby field, and in troubled regions where our personnel keep the peace together our relations are passionate, complex, vibrant and vigorous.
We do not take each other for granted.
Many Fiji Islanders now call New Zealand home adding to New Zealand's rich and unique Pacific identity.
And many New Zealanders are drawn to your shores. In spite of our region's economic difficulties, more New Zealand tourists than ever before are visiting Fiji.
The friendliness of your people, and the beauty of the Fiji Islands are among your greatest assets, and known the world over.
Trade between us is also robust. The Fiji Islands are easily our largest trading partner among the Pacific Island countries.
Occasionally of course, the friendships that our people share are enriched by the spirit of competition. We in New Zealand were honoured to meet your team in the Commonwealth Sevens rugby final in Kuala Lumpur last month. And not a little relieved when the final whistle went!
Both our countries deserved gold medals that day. None would deny the dominance of the Fiji Islands teams in the world of rugby sevens in recent years.
And your national 15-a-side team is to be congratulated for qualifying for the rugby World Cup in 1999. This will provide us with an opportunity to revisit the rivalry of great friends in the months ahead. But we're keeping Joeli Vidiri!
We should not of course be complacent about our relationship. I hope we can explore ways to build new links between our countries that mutually benefit us both. We might, for example, consider further measures for promoting open and free trade between our two countries, much in the same way as we have done with Australia under CER.
We are also pleased to work alongside Fiji Islanders in regional matters. Indeed I can think of no more fitting example than our joint efforts to assist PNG in resolving the Bougainville conflict.
As we speak, Fiji and New Zealand personnel are serving along with Australians and Vanuatu to monitor the peace on Bougainville.
We can be proud of our joint efforts. Again, the special New Zealand-Fiji bond is there, as each rotation of Fiji peace monitors prepares for their Bougainville peace tour at Trentham, just a few kilometres away.
The Fiji Island's reputation for keeping the peace is recognised worldwide. Your commitment is underscored by the fact that per head, the Fiji Islands is the largest contributor of UN peacekeeping operations.
In diplomacy, as well as peacekeeping, Fiji has a proud record of achievement.
In 1965, it was Ratu Sir Kamesese Mara who challenged the colonial powers of the South Pacific Commission to make room for the emerging nations of the Pacific to discuss regional economic and political issues.
It was Fiji which led subsequent moves to establish the South Pacific Forum in 1971.
Fiji hosts the Forum's Secretariat and the University of the South Pacific.
We acknowledge your commitment to regional cooperation.
We also congratulate you as the Fiji Islands embark on a new era with a new Constitution and a new name for your country and its people.
The unanimous adoption of a revised Constitution by the Fijian Parliament is a tribute to your leadership and the vision of the people of Fiji.
We were pleased that two New Zealanders, Sir Paul Reeves and Alison Quentin-Baxter, were able to play a role in the Constitutional review process.
We were delighted to support and then welcome the resumption by the Fiji Islands of its place at the Commonwealth table.
The achievement of the Fiji Islands over recent years bears out the prophetic words of Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau who, in 1991, wrote of:
"the ability of the people of Fiji, post cession and independence, to live together in harmony and with unity in our multifaceted diversity, compared to many other parts of the world in our time."
I understand, Prime Minister, that you are due to hold elections next year.
That makes two of us and I'll be watching with keen interest to see how you get on.
The test for all governments now is how best to pursue growth, security and welfare at a time of international economic uncertainty.
Our traditional commodity exports will not of themselves generate sufficient income to meet the rising expectations of our electorates.
We are both engaged in trying to broaden and improve our economic performance, with policies that educate our people and attract capital and ideas to sectors that are internationally competitive.
New Zealand values the links we have with Fiji in these areas through our Development Cooperation programme. We look forward to deepening such links in the years ahead.
The relationship with the Fiji Islands is one New Zealand values highly and your visit will deepen further the friendship between us.
"I would ask you to stand and join me in a toast to the President of the Republic of the Fiji Islands, His Excellency, Ratu Sir Kamesese Mara."