Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Co-operatives, SMEs and Communications, Hon. Manoa Kamikamica;
Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management, Hon. Sakiasi Ditoka;
Minister for iTaukei Affairs, Hon. Ifereimi Vasu;
Assistant Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Hon. Alitia Bainivalu;
United Nations Development Programme Deputy Regional Director Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Christophe Bahuet;
Pacific Development Director for British Government, Mr. Jean-Paul Penrose;
Asian Development Bank Head of Programming, Ms. Jacqueline Connell;
Esteemed Panelists;
Invited Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Bula Vinaka!
I am delighted to join you all this morning. From the salutations, we appear to have the right representation — Government, Private Sector and Development Partners. So, it is an honour to be part of an agenda that is very near — and dear to home and the people of Fiji.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet against the backdrop of our pursuit for a blue economy — an economy globally valued at approx. US$1.5 trillion per year. The Pacific’s Ocean-based fishing and tourism alone provides billions to the regional economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
But it’s so much more than numbers. Like many other Small Island Developing States, the ocean is Fiji’s single most important resource.

We rely on it for everyday sustenance. We rely on a healthy marine environment for food security, for transport between our islands and with the rest of the world. We rely on it for trade — and for tourism, our largest revenue earner. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the last decade or so, as a nation, we have gone through multiple shocks — natural disasters, economic downturns, global conflicts — and a pandemic.
Each of these crises has had direct bearing on our blue economy. For example, when we had no tourists, there was no demand by restaurants and hotels. With no demand, livelihoods of coastal communities who supplied seafood were affected.

But with crisis comes lessons and opportunities for resilience. This is where our ocean and marine resources can play an important part, if sustainably managed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
To sustain and preserve our marine resources is to sustain Fijian livelihoods.

“It can be hard to feel optimistic. But in Fiji, action is the antidote to despair.” I read this on the UNDP website and thought it is very fitting.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the Coalition Government, we made a commitment to be a Government of the people — one that upholds the values of inclusivity and strong partnership.

And this partnership requires genuine, vested interest in and by the private sector — making them catalysts to unlocking our potential.

I can assure you potential is one thing our peoples don’t lack. What they need are opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
To fully realise Fiji’s blue economic potential and to catalyse private sector development, the Fiji Government is happy to work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the Blue Accelerator Grants Scheme (BAGS). I understand it’s the first incubator model of its kind in Fiji and the Pacific.

Through this initiative, we are supporting investment-ready projects of businesses by nurturing their ability to secure private financing to scale up. This is an opportunity.

The Hon. Kamikamica and I come from the private sector. So, we have experienced challenges businesses face, something we’ll work together on bettering.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We know that the financial sector invests favorably in businesses that have the capacity to pay back (loans/equity/debt). And we also recognise any debt needs to be responsible.

So, by providing development support and more importantly – access to finance, we can negate capital market gaps.

What’s wonderful to see ladies and gentlemen, is that the BAGS received applications valued at near US $9 million (US$8.7 million). They make the initial investments.

Today, we will learn more about eight projects (US$4.08 million), who will soon have further co-financing opportunities to grow.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m also told that the BAGS synergises and leverages Fiji’s Blue Bond issuance. And we hope this model can serve the entire Pacific.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Each of the eight projects — although representing different sectors — are interconnected. The blue economy is an ecosystem after all.

They seek to make travel carbon neutral both at land and sea while modernising maritime logistics
-Support aquaculture so we can produce more products such as prawns;
-Create community interest to use traditional fishing rights/zones for sustainable high value ventures
-Leverage traditional knowledge and our natural resources to develop more authentic tourism products

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have a growing tourism industry. In the first quarter of this year — our hotels and even national airline — are recording numbers like never before.
With growing visitors and consumption comes growing demand. So when tourists come, they need to be fed, that's where sustained-commercial aquaculture comes.

They travel between our islands, thus the need for carbon neutral transport. They produce waste, which needs proper disposal. They are more conscious and seek nature-based, authentic products.

So, by protecting ecosystems, from our reefs to the people that depend on it, Fiji can remain a pristine destination and continue to reap the benefits of a healthy ocean. This will be our point of difference.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For Fiji to transition to a blue economy, we need to mobilise resources and expertise. We need to address barriers such as climate change awareness, knowledge, and technology adaptation. Transformative change will only be realised through accelerated, scalable, and financed initiatives. And we can do this with coalitions and partnerships.

To our partners, the UNDP, UNCDF, ADB and the Government of the United Kingdom, we know a lot can be achieved through partnership.

And it is our hope — technical and financial support ensures the continuity of this initiative.

To the successful projects being incubated, I look forward to seeing each of you grow and contribute to your communities, to our ocean ecosystem and to the economy.

Vinaka vakalevu.