It is a pleasure to be here today with the Fiji-PNG Business Council. This is a very important forum for creating business prospects for our two countries – and for increasing our collective trade with the region and the world. As the largest island economies of the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and Fiji together have a unique opportunity to work together to build a stronger and
more secure region. Our region faces many challenges, and when we work in harmony and cooperation we can overcome these challenges. We can maximise the opportunities that are before us today. What we share in common is of far greater value than any differences. We want a region where we can trade as openly and as freely as possible. We need a region which encourages the right kind of trade and investment. By doing so we promote genuine and widely shared economic development, as well as social harmony and progress that we make in our respective countries.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT
Together, we also face a very challenging global economic environment. In many areas, free trade is under pressure. But we have to overcome the obstacles before us, and work hard to create a free and more open trading environment within our region. Indeed, we might well regard the pressures we face today as presenting opportunities for smaller economies. While larger global powers engage in hostilities, impose tariffs and abandon established rules – we must work closer together and build on our collective strengths. We are all members of important global trade forums such as the World Trade Organisation, and we have collective strength in other forums. This includes MSG, the Pacific Islands Forum, the ACP and the Commonwealth. We have strength in numbers, and we have to use this for our advantage. At a regional and sub-regional level, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are working well to expand trade and investment. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the success of working together is to refer to the level of PNG business investment in Fiji in recent years – and Fiji investment in Papua New Guinea. The level of investment is increasing. I am proud of the substantial investment the business sectors are making into each of our economies. Whether it is in banking, finance, insurance, tourism and hospitality, agriculture, SME businesses or communications – our investment is substantial, and it is growing. In return, we welcome increased Fiji business interest investing in Papua New Guinea – in agriculture, processing, our tourism sector, and communications in particular. The level of two-way trade between our countries has not peaked. It is far from reaching its full potential.
REGIONAL FREE TRADE
Indeed, I think it is now time that we look at advancing a Free Trade Agreement between our two economies. This has been discussed in the past, but to date, we have not seen any real
traction. Now is the time to advance discussion, to look at the costs and benefits – and to consider the feasibility of an FTA. We also have to develop plans for the advancement of regional airline and shipping networks. This will strengthen, improve and promote business, as well as investment in tourism – to enable our citizens and business to have greater ownership of these key sectors.
GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE SECTOR WORKING TOGETHER
The role of our Governments, and our parliaments as law makers – must be to facilitate even greater co-operation, and where possible, joint ventures and partnerships. In Papua New Guinea we will always have mining, and oil and gas resources as an anchor for our economy. But we are broadening and diversifying our economic base. We can learn from your vast experience and success in areas such as tourism and hospitality – which today underpins Fiji’s growth, and future, in so many tangible ways. Our tourism sector development will in many ways differ from Fiji’s, and the diversity of cultural engagement in our country – but we also have many similarities at the core of this sector. Papua New Guinea invites Fiji professionals in tourism and hospitality to work together as we expand our tourism sector. The development of the SME sector is a high priority for both Governments. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy – particularly in the years and decades ahead. For Papua New Guinea, our agricultural base also remains a real key to our future diversified growth. We have to share ideas between our business communities and talk between our Governments. There is no doubt – that Government does not have all of the answers. Government relies on business to tell us what you need, to tell us how Government can legislate and regulate to create healthier business environments. Our people-to-people relationships add value and mutual benefit to our growing business, trade and investment links.
BUSINESS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
I invite more Fijian businesses to come and take a look at the positive change that is taking place in Papua New Guinea. There is no doubt, that with the collapse in global commodity prices, devastating drought and a slow-down in China – that Papua New Guinea has faced tough times. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Oil and gas prices have bounced back, we are recovering from the drought – and the fundamentals of our economy remain strong. Even when faced with very harsh global headwinds – the economy of Papua New Guinea has continued to maintain positive economic growth. Through the last seven years of our Government – we have invested heavily in strengthening the foundations of the Papua New Guinea economy. We have built more new roads, more ports and airports, and refurbished more public infrastructure than at any other time in our history. In fact, there is an infrastructure boom taking place in Papua New Guinea. This is deliberate and is aimed at strengthening the supply chains and infrastructure that is needed to grow our economies.
There must be increased and continued dialogue between our Chambers of Commerce and Industry, so that we can promote business, trade and investment. The success of business in our countries, and around the region, comes down to us working together and communicating better. The doors of the Government of Papua New Guinea, and I am sure the Government of Fiji – are always open. I am pleased that we have this opportunity to meet today. I hope our engagement leads to increased commerce – and creates jobs and enhances small business.