Director, Victoria State Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ms Jenny Bloomfield;
Members of the Australian Business Community;
Ladies and Gentleman.

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

Friends, I’m grateful for your attendance at this private lunch this afternoon where we have the chance to speak about where opportunities exist in the growing Fijian economy; opportunities that you, as business leaders here in Victoria, can seize upon in Fiji.

Because this is such an intimate gathering, I don’t want to speak for too long, because I’d like today to be a two-way exchange, more than anything. I, along with my entire delegation, am here to answer the questions you may have and work with you to ramp up our economic engagement, and that opportunity will be at the core of today’s discussions. But first, let me give you an idea of where Fiji stands today, and where our nation is headed.

Fiji today is the strongest, the most prosperous, the most innovative and the most united it has ever been. We are the hub of the Pacific; the hub of trade, business and development.
And we have done exceptionally well over the past decade, as seen quite clearly through the strength of our economy.

The Fijian economy is now poised to grow for the ninth consecutive year, the longest period of sustained economic growth ever recorded in our history. And the projections forecast that our economy will grow in 2019 and again in 2020, so we are really on course for eleven straight years of growing our economy.

On the back of our economic success, we’ve increased disposable income and our foreign reserves have reached record highs. Year after year, we’ve welcomed more new businesses to Fiji, businesses are growing, and more Fijians are starting businesses of their own. And that big boost in business activity in Fiji has dropped our unemployment to the lowest rate recorded in 20 years.

We’ve poured resources into infrastructure; in fact, when it comes to capital expenditure, my Government has invested more than double the amount of all other governments in Fiji combined. We’re developing new roads, airports, bridges and jetties. We’re massively expanding our ports and making them more efficient. We’re upgrading our national infrastructure to a new standard of climate resilience, and we are extending essential services like water, electricity and telecommunications to every corner of the country.

Fiji has done well because we’ve managed the economy well, simple as that. But, just like with any business, success is a team sport. And the true engine of our economic growth has been the hard work, the sweat and the ability of the Fijian people. And we’re investing our people in new and unprecedented ways.

Education in Fiji is now free at the primary and secondary levels. Now I know that might not seem out of the ordinary for those of you living here in Victoria, but for the Fijian people, that was a historic achievement. And we’ve also massively funded loans and scholarships to allow more of our people to afford access to higher education, including access to our nationwide network of technical colleges. And as a result, we are fielding the most talented and the most competitive workforce in Fijian history. Young, ambitious Fijians who are ready to grow your businesses and take your products to the region, and to the rest of the world.

The world is taking notice of the progress Fiji is making, and here in Victoria, you are uniquely positioned to take part in the very exciting development taking place back in Fiji. You are only a few hours flight away, and while I personally don’t look forward to air travel, even I found the flight here quite easy.
We’re also in a similar time zone, Fiji has strong banking and financial institutions, including ANZ, Westpac BRED Bank, and the Bank of the South Pacific. And we can register new businesses quickly through our Department of Immigration, and our investment arm, Investment Fiji.

We are also carrying out a comprehensive programme of reform throughout the Fijian Civil Service to improve the quality of services delivered to our people. When our work is complete, recruitment and advancement in the civil service will be based solely on merit. Not on who you may know, who your parents may be or where in Fiji you may be from, but on merit. And those reforms are already making for a more rewarding workplace for civil servants, and we are opening up exciting positions for Fijians and for those outside of Fiji in our civil service.

My Government is also outsourcing many of its internal businesses and processes, we’re working with security companies, cleaning companies, and construction firms in areas where they can add the most value to our growing economy, and we expect to forge even more of those partnerships looking ahead.

If and when you do decide to bring your own businesses to Fiji, you won’t be the first. More Fijian and Australian businesses have been working together every year, and they’ve doing better by and for each other. Two-way flows of goods and services between our countries reached 2.13 billion dollars last year, and Australian investment in Fiji rose to 1.33 billion dollars; mostly in tourism, the financial sector and manufacturing.

Now I know that most of you in this room likely know Fiji as a tourism destination. And we are, but that’s not all we are. And that “bula spirit” that makes visitors to our country feel so welcome, also extends to our investment community. Just as our people are world-renowned for their friendliness, we have also made Fiji a place with a business-friendly strategy for economic growth.

Fiji offers a number of targeted incentives to foreign investors that will be of great interest to those in this room. Our corporate tax rate stands at 20 per cent, a figure that becomes even more attractive if a foreign company establishes their headquarters in Fiji, dropping to 17 per cent. And if the company is listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange that rate is lowered even further to just 10 per cent.

We also have massive areas of land across Viti Levu and many of our maritime areas that have been declared as tax-free regions-- and if you explore the beauty of these areas, I’m confident you’ll see the untapped potential that could turn into a business that helps not only grow a business, but grow an entire region around it.

New areas of our country are becoming accessible to various modes of transportation, and we have laid the infrastructure to support sustainable and resilient growth throughout Fiji, far and wide. Those of you in this room are well-versed in recognising white space where it exists-- and I can say with full confidence, Fiji has plenty of opportunity to be seized upon.

And while our tourism sector will continue to grow and expand-- both into new areas of Fiji and new, niche sectors like sports tourism and eco-tourism, that’s only the beginning when it comes to the investment opportunities that have opened up in our country.
I think the prudent eyes of the proven business people in this room will recognise that the market conditions are ripe with opportunity; aside from our unprecedented economic growth and a workforce that is more educated and skilled than ever before, we are seeing Fiji’s economy diversify in exciting new ways. New industries are growing, and new career paths are being created and filled by Fijians.

One area I believe has serious potential, is business process outsourcing. Not only is the Fijian workforce talented, we are also English-speaking, and BPO services in Fiji are available at one third of the price found here in Australia. On top of that, our networks of telecommunications are reliable, they are strong, and they are growing. And in certain zones in the country, we are offering a ten-year tax holiday for ICT operators, and tax holidays for ICT accredited training institutions and for companies working in app design and software development.

In manufacturing as well, there remains a lot of untapped potential. And to encourage greater growth, we are offering tax exemptions and deductions across various industries, particularly in commercial agriculture and agro-processing. My delegation can walk you through those exact details.

Ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you to come to Fiji and see for yourselves just how rapidly our nation is stepping into the 21st century. See the opportunity that exist in our dynamic island economy, see how we are forging new partnerships and building new bridges to new markets in the Pacific and throughout the rest of the world. See the rock-solid foundation of infrastructure and services we’ve put in place to keep our economy strong and growing. And see how ready the Fijian people are to work with you to build the help a new and better Fiji, and to make both of our nations stronger and more prosperous.

As I said at the start, I’m very interested to hear from all of you. But before I conclude, let me thank you all for attending this lunch and for your interest in working with Fiji and the Fijian people.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.