Bula Vinaka from Fiji.
Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, our Commonwealth of Nations faces two vastly different realities.
In one –– that of the developed world –– this pandemic has an end-date. Fast and affordable access to finance spared economies from serious devastation. Now, early access to vaccines promises to spark a rapid recovery. Deaths are declining, businesses are opening, jobs are returning, travel is resuming and the billions of dollars lost in trade are being recouped.
It is a remarkable story of resilience –– or it would be, if only it reached beyond the wealthy world.
In our other reality –– that lived by developing nations –– recovery remains elusive. Inherent vulnerabilities, like geographic remoteness, have been compounded for small island developing states, and it has been left to governments to keep economies afloat with whatever financial tools we could find or acquire, and printing money was not an option. Debts are rising. Development progress is stalled. And nations are limping into the new normal, scarred by massive, COVID-driven losses in revenue.
Only a sustainable and inclusive recovery can bridge these alternate realities. Fiji’s experience shows that access to vaccines is a smart start.
Our development partners, including India, Australia and New Zealand, have helped secure enough vaccines for every adult in the country. No doses are going to waste. As of today, more than 97% of adults have one dose and more than 60% are fully vaccinated. The protection vaccines offer is priceless, but it is not enough to revive our economy. That shot of life demands a mutually-recognised roadmap for recovery across our connected Commonwealth of Nations. We need certainty that trade –– particularly Tourism –– will return once the vast majority of Fijians are vaccinated.
And we SIDS need an intentional international effort that corrects for the years of development progress that the pandemic has stolen from us.
Well before the pandemic, adapting to the climate threat demanded more innovative financing strategies for vulnerable countries. An inclusive, sustainable and resilient pandemic recovery demands the same. We cannot mount that recovery with the present array of financial tools at our disposal, nor can we build a resilient world by viewing development only through an antiquated lens of debt sustainability –– that outdated framework was never built for a warming world.
And we need the membership of the Commonwealth’s full backing of new and innovative financial tools that can urgently fund long-term resilience where it is needed most.
Fiji supports re-skilling –– through green, blue, and digital initiatives –– to open new frontiers for our citizens, particularly young people and women. We support an open and inclusive multilateral trading system that resists pandemic protectionism and ensures that all countries, including SIDS, have full access to trade, including tourism.
We support the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and the proposed reforms to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including a review of the development and special and differential treatment provision, the resolution of the impasse on appointments to the Appellate Body, and the conclusion of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement.
Through it all, we must remain clear-eyed about raising productivity, boosting competitiveness, and creating new opportunities for market access, particularly for SIDS.
There are new and powerful waves that we can ride toward the progress we need. The pandemic has injected rocket fuel into digital innovation. Fiji has met a 300% surge in data usage during COVID –– and we’re planning even more major investments in ICT infrastructure. We reaffirm support for the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda to seize on the rapid acceleration to digital spaces to enable more digital trade, close the digital divide, and build new digital ecosystems. It is one of many ways we can forge strength through connectivity in our economies.
Today, we live in different realities. But the story of this global recovery is still being written. This chapter can still mark the start of a better future. And that future can start within the Commonwealth.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.