Bula Vinaka, Prime Minister and members of the media.

On behalf of every Fijian, I’d again like to welcome New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to our shores for her first official visit to Fiji.

A few years back, we entered a new era of the Fiji-New Zealand friendship; an era defined by mutual respect and equality. Today, our partnership sits at unparalleled strength, as Prime Minister Ardern’s personal commitment to the Pacific has built new bridges of cooperation upon the foundation of trust and openness our governments know today.

Through her inclusive and compassionate brand of leadership, Prime Minister Ardern has earned a profile that extends far beyond New Zealand, winning the hearts and minds of people in Fiji and all around the world. I’m glad to see it, because I believe our world badly needs more leaders like Jacinda.

I consider myself to be a good judge of character. The Prime Minister and I have had the privilege of meeting several times now, and through those meetings, I can tell you one thing: this is a leader who truly cares, who not only leads well but listens, and who shares the principles of togetherness and progress that I hold most dear. But what I’ve admired most is how – when tested by great adversity – she has summoned the spirit of unity in a way that not only lifts up the people of New Zealand, but inspires the wider world.

She and I both see the power in a simple idea; the idea that no matter their background or creed, our people’s fates are bound by nationhood. For much of Fiji’s 50-year history as an independent nation, that was a revolutionary concept. But after shutting the door on decades of hurt and division, today, every citizen of this country can call themselves a proud Fijian, united in the purpose of building a better nation.

Prime Minister Ardern and I also see the potential of a unity across the Pacific. This afternoon, we held a wide-ranging discussion on how our surging partnership can deliver greater good in the lives of Fijians and New Zealanders alike.

New Zealand is Fiji’s second largest regional trading partner. Every year, tens of thousands of Kiwis visit our shores, and Fijian and New Zealand businesses send flows of goods, services and investments across our borders that sustain and create jobs within our economies.

With mounting uncertainty in the global economy, Prime Minister Ardern and I spoke at great length of new avenues of regional economic opportunity. Whether its building climate resilience and climate-focused financial products, providing good housing, expanding access to home ownership, adding greater convenience and liveability to our urban centres, sustainably managing our farms and fisheries, building capacity in education and training, or opening new flows of trade, technology and expertise, we can look within our region –– and to each other –– to ride out the global economic headwinds we face, both now and on the horizon.

Fiji and New Zealand are both in the midst of ambitious agendas to revolutionise our citizen’s wellbeing. In Fiji, we’ve vastly expanded our social safety net to cater for those most vulnerable in Fijian society. We’ve extended maternity leave to 98 working days, established paternity leave and established Family Care Leave for the first time. And we’re keen to fine tune our systems by learning from New Zealand’s goal to set the wellness of their people as the benchmark for good policy, from mainstreaming mental health to furthering women’s empowerment.

What makes this partnership truly special is that Prime Minister Arden and I know the possibilities for our partnership extend far beyond our patch of ocean. From Tuvalu to the halls of the UN General Assembly, our elevated voice on the world stage has transformed the Pacific from a region left off maps to one which loudly and boldly defends humanity’s greatest interests.

Both of our nations recently joined Iceland, Norway and Costa Rica in a new Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, which we expect will generate global momentum to spur sustainable, climate-conscious flows of trade.

It’s one of many ways Fiji and New Zealand are leading the global race to net-zero. I want to congratulate New Zealand on passing its climate change response “zero carbon” bill. Fiji is proud to join you on the right side of history by passing our own Climate Change Bill this year, which lays out our pathway to net-zero emissions.

The window is quickly closing for the rest of the international community –– including our neighbours –– to match our world-leading efforts. The work of the next nine months in the lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow is going to be pivotal to the next 30 years of climate action, and to securing a habitable future for the Pacific and the planet alike. I know I can count on Prime Minister Ardern to not only do the right thing, but to join Fiji in demanding the right thing from the rest of the world; specifically, ambitious commitments which limit temperature rise to the vital 1.5-degree target.

2020 is also a landmark year for our oceans and the life they sustain; a cause close to the hearts of all Fijians and Kiwis ––particularly so to New Zealand’s First Man, Mr Gayford, who joins us this week. Whether our fishermen are using a hand line in Lau or manning an inshore vessel in the Cook Strait, they depend on the bounty of healthy ocean ecosystems. Our nations – in partnership with nations across the Pacific – will lend our voices to the defence of ocean health as we look to Lisbon and the second UN Oceans Conference this June.

I also expressed Fiji’s gratitude to Prime Minister Ardern for New Zealand’s support of Fiji’s peacekeeping deployment in the Golan Heights, as well as their pre-deployment training at Blackrock and their ongoing support of RFMF officers training at their peacekeeping institute.

Today, Fiji proudly welcomes home 54 RFMF engineers who have spent five weeks in Australia assisting with the rebuild from the catastrophic bushfire crisis. That contingent was airlifted into Australia on NZ Defence Force Boeing 757.

My friends, the sense of unbreakable fellowship embodied by the RFMF and NZDF –– lending a shoulder when our neighbours needed it most –– reveals the true strength of the Pacific spirit. In that same spirit, I’d like to again extend a warm “Bula” to the Prime Minister from all Fijians. May you and Clarke find the same happiness that thousands of Kiwi mums, dads and children have found in Fiji over the years.

I look forward to hosting you all at our official welcome dinner this evening –– I hope you brought your Bula shirt!

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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