Speech at the Fiji Trade Recovery Roadshow Webinar

The Honourable Faiyaz Koya; Mr Chandar Sen, President of the New Zealand-Fiji Business Council; members of the executive committee; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Ni sahm Bula vinaka,

Thank you Chandar for your warm introduction. Minister Koya, it is a pleasure to be speaking alongside you today.

As Pacific whānau, Fiji and Aotearoa New Zealand have experienced some hard times over the last two years. Fiji’s economy has suffered one of the worst recessions in the Pacific as a result of the pandemic. And in Aotearoa we are currently facing the peak of our own Omicron outbreak.

But there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

COVID-19 re-opening

I congratulate Fiji’s successful COVID-19 response and the re-opening of borders at the end of last year. It is great to see tourists returning and driving Fiji’s economic recovery. I would also like to acknowledge the strong trade-supporting measures that the Fiji government took in response to COVID’s economic impact. This includes tariff reductions and investment incentives to preserve Fiji’s international competitiveness and stimulate trade and investment in the country.

As trade and tourism-dependent economies, we both understand how critical the tourism sector is to supporting small businesses and livelihoods severely impacted by the COVID-19 recession.

The New Zealand Government’s recent announcements around border reopening means New Zealanders will be able to re-connect with their Fijian friends and whānau over the coming months. For business this also means supporting companies to grow their trade and investment, and building new commercial relationships.

Trade recovery and new opportunities

My colleagues, the Honourable Damien O’Connor and Honourable Phil Twyford, spoke to this Council last year about New Zealand’s Trade Recovery Strategy. A key focus of the strategy has been refreshing key trade relationships, including diversification. We must remember that the Pacific is a major market for New Zealand with significant opportunities to grow trade and build back better in the post-pandemic world.

Within the Pacific, Fiji is our largest trading partner by far.  Prior to the Pandemic, two way trade was worth over a billion New Zealand dollars.  New Zealand exports to Fiji were worth more than $640 million New Zealand dollars. This put Fiji among our top twenty trading partners, on par with France and ahead of even much larger economies such as Mexico, or Brazil. 

Understandably, COVID has had a major impact.  Our two-way trade has dropped by over half, falling to $543 million New Zealand dollars in the year to September 2021.  Much of this owes to the collapse in tourism, which can be seen in the fall in services exports, which fell by more than 84 percent over this time.  

But despite this, there have been some bright spots.  For example, Fiji’s goods exports to New Zealand have actually grown by more than 20 percent, rising to $70 million New Zealand dollars in the year to September 2021. And despite COVID-19’s undeniable impact, I am confident there is plenty of scope to regrow our trade and investment and to realising this Council’s ambition of doubling our two-way trade with Fiji to $2 billion. 

New sectors of opportunity are also emerging.  The growth of Fiji’s business process outsourcing sector will generate significant opportunities for investment in new professional services capability, while also helping New Zealand companies gain access to top quality Fijian skills closer to home. 

There are also particular opportunities for Māori exporters and investors to take advantage of in Fiji.  Tikanga Māori around relationship building and cultural identity resonate with Pacific cultures and can lead to business opportunities. With a total asset base of over $70 billion and many enterprises active in exporting and investment in a diverse range of sectors internationally, Māori are well-placed to connect with commercial partners in Fiji and across the Pacific.

PACER Plus

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance that the Pacific region remains committed to collectively strengthening its trade capacity, access to regional and international markets, and to regional economic integration.

You will be aware of the entry into force just over a year ago of the PACER Plus trade agreement.  This is a unique trade and development agreement designed to create the conditions to grow trade and investment flows in the Pacific. It is not only about reducing tariffs, but also harmonising standards across the region to create a more transparent operating environment, reducing red tape and assisting the development of new export opportunities.

Through PACER Plus we are supporting our Pacific whānau to build capacity, diversification and resilience.  As the region’s commercial hub, Fiji’s entry into Pacer Plus would send a strong signal to Pacific partners and business alike of its own commitment to a trade and investment-led economic recovery across the region.

Although Fiji has not joined the agreement, we continue to believe it would benefit considerably from membership.

The Fiji – New Zealand relationship: a strong foundation for the future

Finally, I want to reflect on the strong foundations of the New Zealand-Fiji relationship – through enduring bonds of whakapapa, culture, education, sport, and business links.

I am pleased to see my colleague the Minister of Defence, the Honourable Peeni Henare, is currently in Fiji for a formal visit, and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Honourable Nanaia Mahuta will also be travelling to Suva next week.

As our borders start to re-open, these visits underline the strong foundation of the New Zealand-Fiji relationship and our ambition to step-up the relationship across the board, including through investment and trade. Our commitment has never been stronger.

As I noted at the beginning of my speech, Fijians and New Zealanders together have endured much hardship the last two years. The current geopolitical and global economic outlook is unsettling, with developments in Europe continuing to impact international markets near and abroad.

But we can be confident in the strength, ingenuity, and resilience of our people to navigate these rough waters. I look forward to us working together in the future. 

Nō reira,

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Vinaka vakalevu.