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Mr. Chairman,
Honourable Ministers,
The Executive Director,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

It is my pleasure to address all of you this morning, and I would like to begin by thanking the Chairman of the International Sugar Organisation for hosting this 54th Session of the ISO Council.

This time last year, I addressed you all following the great success of 23rd Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany, as Fiji became the first small island country to lead the United Nations global negotiations as COP23 President.

There, we made considerable and concrete progress in moving forward the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

But COP23, while a success, was only a starting point. The campaign for climate action continues, and it shall continue for years, decades and generations to come. And out work, as COP23 President, has remained unrelenting over the course of this year throughout our presidential term, a term which concludes in less than two weeks’ time, when I handover our Presidency to the incoming President, Poland, at COP24.

The secure future of all of our people is tied directly to how seriously we move to address the threat of climate change.
But as countries with a vested interest in the health and future of the sugar industry, we all have yet another reason why we must take this growing threat extremely seriously. As leaders, you know the risks as well as I do. I’m speaking of the rising seas that continue to put arable land at risk by degrading the quality of our soil; the worsening, prolounged droughts that are hitting cane farmers harder and harder each year; and the increasing severity of tropical cyclones, storms that carry the potential to bring an entire economy to its knees overnight, as we saw with Cyclone Winston in Fiji in 2016.

So, while our Presidency of COP23 may be coming to an end, I assure you, Fiji will remain a committed partner to all of you in this global campaign. We will remain an advocate who speaks out in defence of all nations, especially those facing the most extreme climatic risks. And I fully expect to see all you on the frontlines with us, standing shoulder to shoulder with Fiji and the vulnerable nations of the world, to continue demanding decisive climate action.

But -- no matter how effectively we move forward to address this issue -- severe climate impacts are already upon us, and we can expect things to get worse before they begin getting better. So, in Fiji, we remain equally committed to adapting all aspects of our economy to the reality of climate change, that includes our rapid movement towards a more resilient sugar industry.

In 2016, Cyclone Winston struck our country and brought with it difficult and painful lessons. One of our major mills sustained irreparable damage, and has been permanently closed. But we’ve invested heavily in improving the operational efficiency and reliability of our other major mills since that time. We’ve centralised our crushing operations, prioritising quality and reliability in our mills, and that has helped balance our season length, reduce mill stoppages due to low supply, and allowed for faster rehabilitation of our mills in the aftermath of severe weather events.

We’ve recovered production since the historic low tonnage following Cyclone Winston in 2016, and are on track to produce around 1.7 million tonnes of cane in the 2018 season. And that figure has been achieved despite the impact of tropical cyclones Josie and Keni, which struck our nation in back-to-back succession earlier this year. Our rising production has been led by our mill in Lautoka, which has increased its operational efficiency to 97 per cent and is now crushing an average of around 26,000 tonnes of cane a week, with a new record-high of 40,000 tonnes crushed in the span of a single week this year.

Importantly, the Fiji Sugar Corporation has welcomed a new board and CEO in 2017, and after many years of continuous losses, the FSC has made a remarkable turnaround in its financial performance, recording an 800,000-dollar gross profit this year, compared to an 18.5 million gross loss in 2017.

But our successes will extend far into the future as well, owed to our intensifying focus on the modernisation and mechanisation of the industry by putting new equipment and technology directly in the hands of our cane farmers.

We’ve also doubled our total support to the industry since 2016, improving yields and dramatically reducing the costs associated with production. And those savings have gone directly back into cane farmers’ pockets.

We’ve continued other long-standing support introduced by my Government through grants and subsidies for cane planting, subsidies for fertiliser and weedicides and support to farmers to cover cane cartage, and the continued upgrading of cane access roads.

Our progress in rebuilding, revamping and re-imagining our sugar industry has taken innovation, bold ideas and new solutions tailored to the realities we face in Fiji. And keeping this industry on the new, prosperous path we’re charting will take further innovation still, and that begins with research and development.

The Sugar Research Institute of Fiji has established a new board with new members and a new strategic direction, bringing local and regional expertise to the table with a mandate to help us improve our cane yield. We’re looking closely at how to improve soil health, better our seed cane and water management, and any and all measures that can be taken to reduce the impact of climate variability. We’ll also be working closely with our partners from Japan on a pilot experiment to improve sucrose purity, a critical step towards bioethanol production.

We’ve set aside significant resources towards policies that will see returns over a long-term. But, the truth of the matter is that cane farmers in Fiji are facing serious challenges in the here and now. And it is incumbent on my Government to do what we can to ease those burdens today, while also preparing for the challenges yet to come.

That is why I was deeply proud to see our Sugar Cane Growers Fund – our principal lending institution for cane growers – unveil a new bundled insurance initiative which, at no cost to our growers, provides insurance pay-outs to them, and their families, in the event of personal injuries, fire, or death. We’ve already paid out nearly half a million Fijian dollars to 124 cane farmers, bringing a level of security to our cane growers they’ve never known before; security that all hard-working people deserve for themselves and those they care about.

And in recognition of our farmer’s effort and contribution, we plan to give ten per cent of shares in the Fiji Sugar Corporation directly to cane farmers, through a trust mechanism, with the share allocation for individual farmers derived from the tonnage of cane produced.

We remain deeply grateful for the support from the EU in modernising and adapting our cane industry. While support through the Accompanying Measures for Sugar Protocol has ended, the EU has continued to provide assistance to our agriculture sector, including in the sugar industry. We are securing new markets for Fijian sugar, following the abolishment of the EU production quotas. World sugar prices have, predictably, taken a hit since that time, but Fiji is building new relationships and pursuing more lucrative opportunities, while solidifying our presence in our traditional markets with buyers who are already familiar with the high-quality product we offer.

I would like to close by thanking our cane farmers for all that they do to build our economy, provide for their families and contribute to our national development.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.


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