The Honorable Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Permanent Secretary of Industry, Trade & Tourism;
The Chairman, Board of Directors and Acting General Manager of Investment Fiji;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and good evening to you all.
I’m delighted to join you all tonight at what is unquestionably the nation’s most prestigious recognition for the Fijian business community, the Prime Minister’s International Business Awards.
There’s a reason this is one of my favourite events on the calendar. Each year, these awards provide a stage for leaders from our businesses community to showcase their growth, their workforce and their innovations, putting the national spotlight on Fijian success stories. And that stage isn’t just about a pat on the back or a photo opportunity; it is where businesses are instantly elevated into role models for our private sector. With each application, and with each winner, we are able to inspire Fijians from all ages and walks of life with the life-changing potential in operating a thriving business in Fiji.
My friends, for that inspiration you have instilled in our country, and for your immense contributions to fueling Fiji’s ten-year streak of economic growth, I thank you. For that, I see everyone in this room as a winner for Fiji.
The real beauty in this night is that the honourees of these awards have represented the range of diverse businesses that our country is becoming known for around the world. While our tourism providers are certainly always well-represented, it’s also refreshing to see so many new and upstart businesses and industries starting to pop up with increasing frequency with each passing year.
Previous winners range from household names like Fiji Airways, to exporters of exciting, high-growth products and small startups that are harnessing technology to shake up existing industries.
But no matter the size of the company, every dollar invested by you in an investment in the future of Fiji. And your vote of confidence in our country’s political and economic stability has been contagious for the international community, as we’ve seen steady rises in foreign direct investment from markets like Australia, China, New Zealand, and PNG. And we’re seeing Fijian-made exports on the rise.
But as larger economies around the world enter into trade wars and turmoil, and regional economies like Australia and New Zealand are slowing down alongside a global economic downturn globally, you can be mindful of these trends, but do not be demoralised. Even as growth softens around the region and world, Fiji has proven its resilience in the past, and we will prove it again. So instead, find the opportunity. This is actually precisely the time to take advantage of new incentives that we’ve put in place to insulate Fiji from that global trend, as it won’t last forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, this government is fully committed to helping continue that momentum in the years ahead. But this shouldn’t be seen as political –– it’s not about being “pro-worker” or “pro-business”, pretending that we can’t be both simultaneously. It’s about being pro-Fiji, and it’s about being pro-growth. So from creative incentives to tax reforms that are working to cultivate your businesses, to our work with development partners to break down barriers and restrictive trade policies –– like Australia’s easing of its longstanding kava restriction in the new year –– this government is behind you.
These include a low, 20 per cent corporate tax rate, which drops lower still to 10 per cent for companies listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange. They include the establishment of tax-free regions, up to 13-year tax breaks, and duty-free import of various items like machinery for qualifying investments. And they include a wide range of industry-specific incentives for agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, ICT and BPO, healthcare, film, housing, renewable energy –– and that’s just to name a few of the long-sighted plans we have put into action.
The Fijian Government partnered with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise in November 2017 to undertake a four-year digital government transformation known as digitalFIJI.
Through my government’s embrace of the digital revolution and under the digitalFIJI umbrella, we’ve launched the BizFiji portal to streamline starting and registering a business online.
We’ve made our public bus network more convenient through the cashless e-Transport initiative for buses and its continued expansion in other transport areas, and established Wi-Fi hotspots at our national university, public parks and in free-to-use telecentres around the country. We’ve covered 100 per cent of the country with digital, free-to-air television access with Walesi through terrestrial and satellite technology.
Our government directory has been brought into the future via the digitalFIJI app. Parents can now register the birth of their child using their mobile phones. Fijians can submit and track feedback on government performance and also pay for government services and register their businesses online – with a number of future developments already in the pipeline.
We recently launched e-passports, streamlining customs at our airports and for Fijians travelling overseas, once again meeting that high standard we’ve set for our nation’s future. There’s even more on the horizon, with new plans well underway for new national identification cards that will bring us up to par with advanced countries around the globe.
And we’re using that same type of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking used in this modernisation push to transform old industries, as well –– especially the Fijian farming sector.
Through our latest National Budget, our effort to improve the competitiveness of our agro-industries is becoming more informed than ever, as we announced a 4.5-million-dollar allocation to conduct a nation-wide agriculture census. That census will paint a comprehensive picture of commercial and non-commercial farms across Fiji, providing critical research and insight on what, how and where our farmers should be planting to maximise profits and how we attract large-scale commercial farming investments and improve our food security.
Government is also providing targeted support to crop varieties such as rice, ginger, coconut, vanilla, cocoa, dalo, yaqona and potatoes, as well as sheep and goat meat production, all of which we’re confident will not only help meet demand among our people and within our tourism industry, but in markets beyond Fiji, near and far.
Ladies and gentlemen, government is also taking bold action to uplift the business sector and work closely with our partners to improve our ease of doing business ranking with the World Bank. While the methodology of this ranking has shown its flaws, and certainly hasn’t reflected how businesses like those here tonight have thrived in Fiji, it is important we fight any perception that Fiji is nothing less than fully open for business.
Just this month, we held a workshop on digital identification in Fiji which paves the way towards cashless transactions and new market opportunities for new and existing Fijian businesses.
Earlier this year, the Reserve Bank of Fiji launched an online Personal Property Securities Registry, which makes it easier for our people to use their assets as collateral to secure loans. That means access to finance has gotten easier, allowing our people and our businesses, particularly our small and medium sized enterprises, to make more efficient, lower-cost investments.
And the new bizFIJI portal has already brought unprecedented transparency to the processes of starting a business and obtaining a construction permit.
Budding entrepreneurs and longstanding businesses alike are already feeling these improvements. But, these progressive steps have all come past the World Bank’s April 30th deadline for consideration in the 2020 Ease of Doing Business Rankings. We fully expect these achievements, and others currently in the pipeline, to be considered in the 2021 Ease of Doing Business index and in later years.
We’re also tapping into your ideas, as leaders of the private sector, to help improve the business climate in Fiji through open and direct dialogue. We’re here to listen to you, and to hear from you about how FRCS can improve its services and business processes to be better responsive to your needs. This approach has been spearheaded by the newly-formed FRCS Business Reform Committee.
But perhaps nowhere is our commitment to you –– and to the Fijian economy as a whole –– more visible than in our continued, aggressive investments in Fijian infrastructure and education.
We’re investing in our roading system, in developing our ICT network through projects like the Southern Cross submarine cable, in improving the capacity and efficiency of our ports, and in formulating our latest master plan for Nadi/Lautoka and the greater Suva area, led by world-renowned town planner Professor Lieu Thai Ker, the man who designed the modern day Singapore.
We’re investing in in our schooling system and the training of our workforce, showing investors here at home and abroad that we have a rock-solid foundation to build their businesses on, and the talented human capital to bring them to life.
And, how could I forget, we’ve now added a beautiful new flagship to our Fiji Airways fleet with Fiji’s –– and indeed the Pacific’s –– very first Airbus A350-900 extra-wide body, which has just made its way from France to Dubai with our Attorney General on board to participate in the Dubai Air Show. I will then join him in Sydney to bring her home on the 23rd of this month. Marking a milestone in aviation and demonstrating how we will continue to expand our economy by keeping Fiji on the cutting-edge, I think this strategic investment is a history-making achievement worthy of a round of applause.
My friends, the rising quality of our skilled workforce was on full display to the world at our Asian Development Bank Annual Meeting earlier this year, right here at the Sheraton. From the many hundreds of local workers and volunteers who made the event run off without a hitch, to the young students and civil society organisations that led conversations that should make any Fijian proud, it was an event that set a new bar for the lucrative industry of meetings, conferences, incentives and events, or MICE.
And as we look to the future for that expanding MICE industry, the World Exchange Conference will come here to Denarau next June, putting influential investors’ eyes from around the globe on SPX as the premiere capital markets destination in the Pacific. Keep watching MICE, my friends, as conversations are already happening to bring even more globally-renowned events in Fiji.
At that bar-raising ADB Annual Meeting, we also saw our first-ever 30 Under 30 competition, which centred around showing the country, and the world, the faces of Fiji’s future. Continuing the momentum of this recognition of our young achievers, government announced plans in the last budget to host a National Youth Awards ceremony next May that will highlight youth achievement across our society.
This ceremony will conglomerate awards that used to be held across a number of different ministries into one big, national celebration of the success of our young people. It’s going to immediately become one of the most important events on our national calendar. Staff from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism are with me tonight, so you can speak with them for more information. And please, take advantage of this opportunity to give back to the young people of this country by getting involved in this competition and, who knows, maybe even find the next young Fijian who one day takes up the reigns of your company.
My friends, as Prime Minister, I’m taking a personal role in spreading the word by touting these many programmes and initiatives wherever I go. Whether it’s touring the floor of a furniture factory in Malaysia and making a pitch for them to expand operations to Fiji, or meeting face-to-face with investors in Brisbane, I am always proud to help the international community see that Fiji is open for business.
But our people are our best ambassadors, so I ask you this favour: Join me on the mission to spread confidence, and spread the word of Fijian potential, both here and at home. I look forward to seeing even more of you tap into that as time goes on, seizing on the immense unrealised potential we have in Fiji. Every time I see the launch of a new Fijian business or brand, and watch as it grows, providing jobs and feeding our economy along the way, I feel a deep sense of personal pride in the endeavor of our people. It’s why our Young Entrepreneurship Scheme and Micro Small Business Scheme have been two of our greatest initiatives in recent years, allowing more Fijians than ever to turn their business dreams, once out of reach, into reality.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I’ve said many times before, with any of this – government cannot go at it alone. You are the real job-creators, and your Fijian success stories are what we are here to celebrate. For that, I offer my sincere appreciation to all the entrants for participating in this year’s International Business Awards.
Finally, I thank our generous sponsors and event organisers for their role in putting on tonight’s show.
Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, and please – enjoy the rest of the evening. You’ve earned it.