Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola held historic talks this week with his Japan counterpart, Minister Fumio Kishida.

This is the first bilateral meeting between both Ministers since Japan’s Abe-led government came into power in 2012. The meeting between the two senior government officials is regarded as a step forward in the deepening of relations between Fiji and Japan, particularly in view of the difficulties in relations experienced by Fiji, under the previous government.

Minister Kishida expressed on behalf of the Japanese Government, his appreciation towards Fiji’s participation at the PALM 6 Interim Ministerial Review Meeting, despite the fact that Fiji did not participate in the PALM 6 Leaders Meeting. He emphasized that Fiji’s position as the hub of the South Pacific region plays a vital role in Japan’s partnership and development objectives in the region. He acknowledged Fiji’s electoral developments as a step forward towards democratic elections in 2014 and reiterated Japan’s willingness to assist in the preparatory process for election in 2014.

Minister Kubuabola in response thanked the government of Japan for the assistance provided to Fiji in the past and congratulated Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. He also acknowledged the invitation extended to Fiji to attend the Interim Ministerial Meeting held this weekend.

There were several bilateral issues presented by Minister Kubuabola for Japan’s consideration. The first was the proposed visit to Japan by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama as the Minister responsible for the Sugar Industry. The Minister said that as part of Fiji’s sugar reforms, the visit in 2014 would allow a delegation to observe the Okinawa Sugar Industry, as part of efforts to capture all the best practices and experience of countries with sugar industries similar to Fiji. The second was Fiji requesting the early conclusion of an investment agreement, which is critical to increasing trade and investment between the two countries. On these two issues, Minister Kishida agreed that relevant officials from both countries should coordinate closely with each other to ensure these two issues are concluded.

The Nadi River Realignment Project was again raised with Minister Kishida, to underscore its critical importance to Fiji and to further demonstrate how recent flooding in Fiji has caused havoc in the social and economic activities in that important region. Assistance towards the PIDF Secretariat was also requested and Minister Kishida agreed that his official will consider this and an appropriate response will be provided.

On bilateral projects with Fiji, Japan will send a mission to Fiji in February/March 2014 to finalize the feasibility study for the Nadi River Realignment Project before the stage will start.

Minister Kubuabola also extended an invitation to Minister Kishida to visit Fiji soon. In doing so, he noted that the last Foreign Minister of Japan that visited Fiji was Mr Shintaro ABE who accompanied Prime Minister NAKASONE to Fiji on an official visit in May 1985. He further observed that high level ministerial visits between friendly countries, should be at regular interval, as they provide a critical mechanism for maintaining goodwill and fraternal relationships between states. On this, Minister Kishida said that he would like to visit Fiji and he will look into this seriously.

The meeting concluded with mutual expression of goodwill to each other. Fiji’s resident Ambassador in Japan H.E Isikeli Mataitoga and the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Mr Pio Tikoduadua accompanied the meeting with the Foreign Minister.