Bula vinaka, and a very good afternoon to you all.

From the day I arrived in Canada three days ago, it has been one remarkable experience after another, as I met with members of the Fijian diaspora and their families as well as members of the business community.

Of course, I expected warm hospitality and natural beauty. Canada—and British Columbia in particular—are famous for both. I didn’t expect to learn that Surrey is one of the most dynamic and prosperous cities in Canada. Being so close to Vancouver has its advantages and disadvantages, I am sure. On the one hand, you live a bit in the shadow of one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities. So Surrey may be the world’s greatest discreet city. On the other hand, you have taken advantage of this position to accomplish great things. You are Canada’s twelfth-largest city and have the highest average householdincome in the entire country.

So I am very pleased to open a dialogue with you today about how we can strengthen existing Fiji-Canada trade and investment relations, develop our people-to-people contacts and explore new, untapped areas that hold a lot of promise for growth, at least for the next five years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to give you the message I have been giving repeatedly since I arrived in Canada: Fiji is open for business. Fiji is powering ahead. And the opportunities that await you are unprecedented and limited only by your imaginations.

Since well before our election victory in September last year under the 2013 Constitution, my Government has been implementing a well-thought program of sound and stable macroeconomic policies and streamlined institutional administrative arrangements to make it easier to do business in Fiji engine of economic growth through the public and private sector.

Just last month, I officiated at the launching of the Investment Fiji Online Single Window Clearance System, where foreign investors can register online with simultaneous access to all the Tier One agencies in one sitting. This is a milestone achievement for us in the important area of trade and investment facilitation. We hope that the Online Single Window Clearance System will become a convenient one-stop shop for foreign investors, particularly for you here in Surrey city.

I am proud to tell you that our investment levels exceeded 25% of our GDP target last year. We believe that this is due to the increasing business confidence in our stable political environment—which has meritocracy at its very heart—and the strong political will demonstrated by my government as we continuously fine-tune investment packages for foreign and local investors. We have used well-known mechanisms like generous tax holidays, low corporate taxes, and flexible conditions for repatriating profits. For our people back home, we are driving a radical transition to a higher level of economic development.

The steady upward growth of Fiji’s economy into its 5th consecutive year is testament to the increasing resilience of the Fijian economy, which grew at an average rate of more than 4% over the past three years. This year, it is forecasted that the economy will again grow at a rate of 4.3%. My government has also removed a number of barriers for foreign investors.

Fiji also has the lowest corporate tax in the region, which is at a flat rate of 20 percent. This can be reduced further to 17 percent for companies shifting their international or regional headquarters to Fiji and 10 percent for companies registering on the South Pacific Stock Exchange. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (or ANZ) has already moved its regional headquarters from Melbourne to our capital in Suva, in what can only be described as a significant vote of business confidence in Fiji’s thriving economy.

We are transforming our infrastructure with unprecedented investment in our roads, water and electricity, and by upgrading our seaports and airports. Our education revolution and the free schooling we are now providing for the first time means that Fijian workers have never been so well equipped.

We are not just strengthening the economy, we are raising our standards and raising our people’s expectations. We do not see ourselves as an insignificant group of islands that are condemned to second-class economic status and dependent on the generosity of others. We see ourselves as capable of competing with anyone in the world. We want to compete, and we want to take our fair share of global prosperity.

I am proud to be at the helm of government at this important moment in Fiji’s history. As roads, bridges, jetties, ports and other trade-related infrastructure have undergone major overhaul, new buildings have been springing up not only in the cities but also in the semi-urban and rural areas. It is indeed an exciting time to be in Fiji.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are watching e-commerce take center-stage in the way we do business in the 21st century, and my government has moved aggressively to develop ourICT infrastructure to protect our private sector’s business interests and investments and keep pace with the rest of the world. Fiji has state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure including the fiber-optic cable connections from Australia to the USA--which, by the way, also provide faster connectivity to some of Fiji’s neighboring countries such as Tonga and Vanuatu, even though they are thousands of kilometers away. The increase in mobile broadband and the introduction of telecentres that provide free access to the Internet for our citizens has seen Internet caused penetration to increase by double-digit figures since 2010. There is a 105% mobile sim penetration.

The tourism industry, which contributes approximately 35% of Fiji’s GDP, is one of the areas that I had in mind when I spoke earlier about untapped areas of investment. Certainly, there is plenty of foreign and domestic investment in our tourism sector, which is world-class. But Canada is notably absent.

Fiji’s strategic position in the region as the regional hub for ICT, air and maritime transport, regional trade, finance, development cooperation and others makes it ideal for the exotic all-Fijian holiday vacation, as well as holiday packages that include other nearby destinations in the South Pacific and beyond. But last year, out of close to 700,000 visitors to Fiji, only 12,000 arrived from Canada, which is about 1.8%. Now, I know that Canadians like to travel to warm, sunny places in the wintertime, and we would like to lure you away from Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The national mood has been transformed. And of course, it also helps when we are doing so well in sport. For the first time ever, both our Under 23 soccer team and our Rugby Sevens side have qualified for the Olympics. And some of our top sportsmen and women are carving out lucrative professional careers for themselves around the world.

Wherever you look, it’s “Go Fiji, Go.” So, Friends, great opportunities await you all in the new Fiji. And I urge all of you who haven’t yet done so to reconnect with your homeland—or connect with Fiji for the first time. To examine the many opportunities that Fiji now offers as we put the past behind us and move forward together. A nation finally at peace with itself. A nation that is an inspiration to its island neighbours. A nation taking its rightful place in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to conclude by thanking our generous host, Surrey Board of Trade and all its members, for the opportunity to have this dialogue today, the organizing committee for the excellent facilitation of the logistics of my delegation’s visit, and many others whom I will not be able to name but who have been tirelessly working behind the scenes to make this event a success.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu.