Video address by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs,
to the Australia-Fiji and Fiji-Australia Business Councils'
19 November 2001.
14th Australia Fiji Business Forum
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am very pleased to be able to address you this morning, at the beginning of your annual joint meeting - even if only by video. I hope to meet many of you in person, probably next month when I plan to travel to Fiji.
I am looking forward very much to visiting Fiji again - to renew acquaintances and discuss important issues with my counterparts. Last year, for obvious reasons, I was not able to visit, so I am only too pleased to have the opportunity this year.
I am also pleased to see that the Prime Minister is opening this Forum today. This emphasises the important relationship that Australia has with Fiji.
Fiji and Australia are important to each other. Australia is by far Fiji's largest trading partner. In 1999, we took almost one third of Fiji's exports and in turn provided 42% of its imports.
Fiji ranks lower on Australia's list of trading partners - 32nd in 2000 - but one statistic is revealing. In 2000, Fiji's imports of goods from Australia of $592 million equated to $740 per capita - far greater than EU or US purchases of around $40 per capita. Fiji remains a significant market for Australia and Australian business.
I also note that Australia is the source of more than 25% of Fiji's tourists, and that this number is increasing - another example of how our relationship is very important to the future of Fiji.
Our relationship is about more than trade and tourism, however - it also covers political and military cooperation, as well as a shared heritage.
Australia has co-operated closely with Fiji in international affairs. Most recently, 194 Fijians stood side by side with Australians and others to keep the peace in East Timor - in very difficult circumstances.
I was pleased to announce on 5 October, following the Fiji election, that Australia would lift sanctions against Fiji. To us, the results of the election reflected the will of the people. And we welcome the return of an elected government, accountable to the Parliament.
While I acknowledge that there is litigation over the formation of the government, this is a matter for the people of Fiji to resolve, without outside interference.
I am confident that the new government will continue to act in a constitutional manner.
Lifting sanctions has consequences.
Fiji's national sports teams can play again in Australia, unrestricted.
Australia will resume aid to Fiji. We will provide $1 million for short-term health and education services, emphasising primary health and nutrition, and rural schools. Training programmes will recommence, including scholarships and the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Programme. We will propose a Civil Society Support Programme aimed at improving links between government and non-government agencies in Fiji.
Our defence forces will cooperate again. We will re-start formal talks, and we will invite the Fiji military forces to nominate staff for Australian defence force courses.
We want to cooperate again on the economic front. The Australia-Fiji Trade and Economic Relations Agreement seeks to promote two-way trade, economic relations and investment between our two countries. If any of you would like to propose activities under this agreement, I'm sure that my Department will be delighted to hear from you.
You are meeting in Geoff Shaw's new Outrigger Reef Resort - a brave investment venture which went ahead in the teeth of last year's crisis, and an example of the tenacity of Australian business in Fiji. I very much enjoyed Geoff's hospitality on my last visit to Fiji, and hope the new venture is going well.
I see that the theme of this Forum is "Building partnerships". It is a highly appropriate theme, because the forum coincides with a new phase - indeed, a new start - in Fiji-Australia relations, and in building new partnerships between our two peoples.
Any relationship, once established, must be maintained and renewed. If partners start taking each other for granted, that relationship will diminish - to the detriment of both sides. This is as true for business relationships as it is for international relations. And it is the basis on which, government to government - even during the difficulties of the past year - we have sought to maintain our relations with Fiji.
This Forum is important. I hope it delivers results for you. It certainly provides each of you the opportunity to strengthen existing partnerships, as well as to establish new ones. You can be assured that the Australian Government will be working hard to develop our relations with a constitutionally formed and democratic Government of Fiji.
The result, I sincerely hope, will be renewed and flourishing political, economic and business ties between our two nations.
Thank you, and my best wishes to you.
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