The Honourable Queensland Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment,
The Honourable Fijian Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources,
The Honourable Fijian Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management,
Your Excellency, the Fijian High Commissioner to Australia,
The Consul General and Trade Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand,
The CEO of the Australia-Fiji Business Council,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

Along with building our resilience to climate change, the expansion of Fiji’s trade with the rest of the world is among my government’s top priorities. So I’m delighted to be spearheading the first dedicated trade and investment mission to one of the most dynamic economies in our region – the state of Queensland.

I want to start in the customary way by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we gather and to pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my only regret is that I wasn’t in Brisbane last week to see the Maroons beat the Blues in the deciding match of the State of Origin. I know how important this is to every Queenslander. And I would have loved to have been among the 50,000 spectators at the Suncorp Stadium with Petero Civoniceva by my side – a Fijian former Maroon who has done so much for Queensland rugby league and who is with us all today. Vinaka vakalevu, Petero, for the honour you have brought to Queensland and to Fiji over the years and your service to the game and the community that continues in your retirement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I also want to warmly welcome the Queensland Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment, the Honourable Curtiss Pitt. To thank him for being with us today and for the supportive comments he made in his own address. Mr Pitt presides over an economy that generates more export income than any other Australian state. And Fiji places the highest importance on forging a closer engagement through the strengthening of our trade and investment ties. To take our economic relationship to the same level as the great friendship that has always existed between our peoples.

Fijians and Queenslanders don’t just share a deep love of sport. We genuinely like each other and share some very important characteristics. We are friendly, open, caring and unpretentious. We are down to earth. And if there’s one place in the world where I know I can be Frank by name and frank by nature, it’s in Brisbane.

We also value modesty, loyalty and teamwork. Sticking together especially when times are tough. What you call mateship in Australia and we also prize as our greatest national value. Equal opportunity. Reaching out to help those less fortunate, the people you Aussies call “the battlers”. And our heroes are invariably those who triumph in face of adversity, who beat the odds. Something that has served us well in times of natural disaster and especially the cyclones that have caused so much heartbreak for both our peoples.

A great many Fijians have found new homes in Queensland and a great many Queenslanders have come to call Fiji their second home. So put simply, Fijians and Queenslanders are the best of mates. And we have a great opportunity to take that relationship to another level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, because of those shared characteristics and values, I ask every person in this room today to think about what we can do to bring us even closer together. And especially how we can intermesh our economies through increased trade and investment and create more opportunities for growth and prosperity for our peoples.

As you’ve heard, a key objective of today’s symposium is to highlight the significant untapped potential that exists in the Fiji-Queensland relationship. And areas in which we can work together and provide tailor-made investment solutions to benefit both our economies.

We see particular opportunities in the areas of ICT, mining and agriculture, along with other productive sectors of our respective economies. So I have brought with me a high-level team of Fijian ministers, permanent secretaries and other senior officials – plus the head of Investment Fiji – to help showcase what we have to offer.

I’d like to introduce them one-by-one and ask them to stand so that you can all see precisely who they are and who you need to talk to about your particular field of interest.

You have already heard from our Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources, the Honourable Faiyaz Siddiq Koya, who has the critical task of showcasing Fiji to the world and bringing more of the world to Fiji. He also ensures that our state land and those lands deposited by iTaukei landowners into the land bank are managed well. He is also developing a new and transparent regime for mineral exploration in Fiji.

Then, we have our Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, the Honourable Inia Seruiratu. As many of you know, I am the incoming President of COP23 – the ongoing UN negotiations on climate change. And the Honourable Seruiratu is also our Climate Champion, crisscrossing the world drumming up support for our presidency. It’s great to have him step off the global treadmill in Brisbane today.

Can I also introduce a brace of permanent secretaries – the civil servants who head some of our most important ministries. First Yogesh Karan – the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office and Acting Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Sugar Industry. Then we have Shaheen Ali – the Permanent Secretary for Industry, Trade and Tourism, who heads a dynamic team totally focused on our export effort and attracting investment and visitors to Fiji. And Naipote Katonitabua, the Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs, who has the important task of assisting our indigenous people to maximise the economic opportunities from their ownership of more than 90 per cent of the land surface in Fiji.

Many of you will already have met our High Commissioner to Australia, His Excellency Yogesh Punja – a prominent business figure in his own right before he became a diplomat – and our Consul General in Sydney and Trade Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand, Zarak Khan – both of them vital points of first contact within Australia. And last but not least, the CEO of Investment Fiji, Godo Muller-Teut, who heads a team that can give any potential investor all of the information you need about Fiji.

This includes the one-stop shop we have established to ease the approvals process and the various incentives that are available. Duty concessions, investment allowances and some of the lowest and personal taxes in the region. As I say, a high level team all at your disposal to explore the wonderful opportunities that Fiji has to offer.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are also a great many other people in the room from the private sector whose experience you can draw on – in agriculture, for instance, the CEO of Buderim Ginger, the General Manager of Paradise Beverages and Chef Colin Chung, who can all explain the trade and investment opportunities in Fiji’s agriculture and agro-processing centres.

And then there are the Fijians who have become Australians and have carved out prominent roles in business here – among them Hari Raniga of Majans Snacks and Shainiel Deo of Halfbrick Studios, who you will hear from shortly.

All of these individuals can give personal accounts of the many benefits of investing in Fiji – our position as Hub of the Pacific with our quick and easy transport links with Queensland; our rapidly improving infrastructure – better roads, better airports, more efficient ports; our general connectivity and world-class telecommunications; and especially the quality of our people – dedicated, loyal, hardworking team players. Eager to seize the opportunity to work for good employers and build a strong future for themselves, the companies they work for and the Fijian nation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the time to invest in Fiji and expand our trade has never been better. My Government has unified our nation, given every Fijian a common identity and strengthened our institutions – including our parliamentary democracy – under a constitution that has given all Fijians unprecedented rights and is a model for other nations.

With our consistent policies based on fairness, inclusion and empowerment, we have put an end to the years of instability and uncertainty – the lost years -and have set Fiji on a new course. And as a government, we have our eyes firmly set on sustainable economic growth and on achieving greatness. A determination to not only cement Fiji’s position as the pre-eminent Pacific island nation but steadily transform ourselves from a developing country into a modern nation state.

We understand how a modern economy works, which is why we have had eight successive years of solid economic growth in spite of the natural disasters that have beset us. And part of that success is because we understand the importance of policies that are pro-business. And of government and the private sector working together as close partners in national development.

So today, I invite you all to be partners in building the new Fiji – if you aren’t already – and partners in building our relationship with the great state of Queensland. Because if there’s one overriding characteristic we share as Fijians and Queenslanders, it’s a sense of optimism. An eagerness to embrace opportunity. Gratitude that we have both been blessed with beautiful surroundings. But with the absolute conviction that we haven’t yet reached our full potential and much better days lie ahead.

In Fiji, we are building that future not only by investing in our infrastructure to unlock our economic potential but investing in our people. We’ve always had an educated, committed, English- speaking workforce but far too many of our people were being left behind and didn’t have the means to reach their full potential. They needed a leg-up. We as a nation needed a leg-up. So we embarked on an education revolution to transform the prospects of our people and transform Fiji’s prospects with a workforce that is smarter, more productive, more innovative and more focused.

I often say that the proudest of my Government achievements is the free schooling we introduced in 2013 for primary and secondary school students. It’s something Australians take for granted. But imagine the pain for so many low-income families over the years of not being able to send their children to school. Or having to make them leave early and contribute to a family’s meager income.

Well those days are over in Fiji. We have lifted the most important barrier to advancement for any child – the ability to get an education. And in doing so, we have freed tens of thousands of young people from the poverty trap. And opened up for them a world of opportunity.

We also have a tertiary loans program and have increased our scholarships for more gifted students. And we have set up a national network of technical colleges to encourage our young people to take up a trade and increase our skills base. Which means that young Fijians entering the workforce now and in the years to come are better educated than at any other time in our history. Formal qualifications that recognise their skills and are transportable – opening up job opportunities not only in Fiji but across the region and beyond. And what it means for you as potential investors is a bigger pool of qualified people on which to draw to build your businesses and take your product to the rest of the world.

It’s already happening. We have a great many export success stories. The Fijian Made brand of goods and services is already reaching out to the four corners of the earth – water, cosmetics, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, telecommunications services. And they are making Fiji a byword for quality in the regional and global marketplace.

In the ICT sector, Fijians are also reaching out to the world from our call centres, which we are perfectly placed to host with our English-speaking workforce with neutral accents, our world-class telecommunications and a time zone that straddles the big markets of the Asia Pacific and North America. If you ring Fiji Airways – whether from Brisbane, Los Angeles or Hong Kong – that call is handled in Fiji. And several other regional and global companies are doing the same. Fiji as the new epicenter of business transactions.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, while Fiji is proud of its string of beautiful islands and lovely resorts – the tropical playground of close to a million visitors a year – we are so much more. We can be so much more. And I invite you all to look at Fiji with fresh eyes. As a thriving economy and a nation that approaches its 50th anniversary of Independence in three years time more confident and with more potential than at any other time in our history.

I want to close by thanking all those who have worked so hard to make this event a success – the CEO and staff of the Australia-Fiji Business Council and our local diplomats – and to leave you with this thought: That if states like Queensland and nations like Fiji can produce successful sporting teams like the Maroons and our Rugby Sevens, we can do the same in the pursuit of economic success.

It requires a game plan that we have – governments providing the right settings and allowing businesses to flourish. It requires imagination that we have, the ability to identify opportunities and exploit them. And it requires teamwork that we have, all of the elements that make up a modern economy playing their respective roles with dedication and flair and totally focused on success.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiji is well and truly open for business and eager to engage with all of you. So I now have the great pleasure to blow the opening whistle on the inaugural Fiji-Queensland Trade and Investment Symposium. And let’s put some scores on the board together.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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