Mar 08, 2021 Last Updated 9:51 PM, Mar 7, 2021

Fiji’s Minister for Economy says there will no civil service pay cuts. Speaking from Singapore during an online budget consultation, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the government’s wage bill is $1.1 billion (US$500 million) and the sector employs some 30,000 people.

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Fiji’s Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism, Faiyaz Koya says the newly launched Pasifika Heartbeat app is “a great example of how Fijians are exploring opportunities to make information services available to Fijians.”

“The health and medical services has become a leading sector where technology is playing a very important role - with the use of telemedicine and other app services. In fact, the pandemic has sped the digital transformation of healthcare. It has also boosted innovation in how patients can receive and consume health care services,” Koya said.

The Pasifika Heartbeat app is a digital repository of health-related information, including the geo-location of public and private health clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals.

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Investment Fiji has launched its new Fiji Trade Expo Series, with the first expo focused on marketing Fiji’s premium products to New Zealand, Fiji’s third largest export destination for merchandise trade. Other expos in the series will target Australia, USA, India, Europe, China, Japan, Indonesia and UAE. Fiji’s top exports to New Zealand are dalo, medicaments, garments, kava and fresh vegetables. New Zealand is also Fiji’s 3rd largest source of foreign direct investment in terms of both number and value of projects. 

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Research undertaken by the World Bank Group concludes removing non-tariff trade barriers could help countries maximise gains for women-owned businesses in the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.  Targeted policies – aimed, for example, at promoting paperless and automated custom systems – could help maximise the benefits of trade for women, who currently face greater challenges than men, the World Bank says.

About 1,500 cross-border trading firms took part in the survey, which showed that women-led firms experience greater obstacles. Fewer women are represented in trade associations and they are consulted less regularly when it comes to matters related to border processes. Women are also dependent on more flexibility in doing business due to more family obligations.

The Acting Permanent Secretary for Local Government, Shaheen Ali says  approximately $30 million has been given as concessional loans to 5,438 micro, small and medium enterprises as part of government’s COVID-19 relief efforts. These loans have been extended mainly in the agriculture, wholesale and retail, food and hospitality, transportation, manufacturing and other service driven sectors.

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A number of Fijian businesses continue to sign under the Fijian Grown logo. One of the latest is farm and floriculture outfit, Golden Cowrie Complex.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji Governor says Fiji could see a marginal economic recovery if borders open towards the end of the year. Ariff Ali says economic recovery will depend on fiscal support provided by the government in the 2021-22 national budget. “On a positive note, the RBF’s December Business Expectations Survey shows that overall business confidence has improved slightly from six months ago, possibly reflecting the successful containment of the virus locally, businesses adjusting to the new norm and concrete steps towards immunisation across the globe,” Ali says. He anticipates inflation will rise due to shortages as the result of Tropical Cyclone Ana and associated flooding. The full statement is available here.

Two companies listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPX) have suspended trading. Fiji Television (FTV) has suspended trading as it must recall and re-issue its financial statements for the financial year ending June 30, 2020.  In a statement today, it says “subsequent to the release of its Financial Statements…the FTV Board had undertaken certain internal investigations. The investigations identified some account adjustments which relates to prior years.”  The accounts adjustments are now being reviewed by an external auditor. Meanwhile Fijian Holdings (FHL), the parent company of Fiji Television has also suspended trading and expect its half yearly financial results to be delayed.

The IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is to support Fiji’s government to design an early childhood care services policy. A 2019 IFC report found that each year, employers are losing an average of 12.7 work days per employee due to parents juggling responsibilities at work and home, costing businesses an average of FJ$550,000 (US$273,000) each year in lost productivity, or about FJ$1,000 (US$497) per employee. The cooperation agreement will also see the introduction of a licensing and inspection system for childcare providers.

The Financial Intelligence Unit has warned Fijians against unregulated cryptocurrency trading and pyramid selling schemes. FIU Director Razim Buksh said instances of unregulated cryptocurrency trading and illegal pyramid selling schemes have been referred to them. They are being aggressively promoted on social media.

Fiji Crop and Livestock Council trustees have been elected for the next five-year term of office. They are: John Deo, Fiji Coconut Farmers Association; Josua Raitilava, Fiji Ginger Farmers Association; Filimoni Kilawekana, Fiji Dalo Farmers Association, and Simon Cole, Fiji Pig Farmers Association.

Thunderstruck Resources has appointed Rob Christl as Vice President Business Development and Investor Relations. Thunderstruck anticipates drilling to commence in June at its Liwa gold and silver project in Fiji.

The Fiji Banks and Finance Sector Employees Union has confirmed Aunendra Singh as its national secretary, and Faizal Hussain as president. Singh says COVID-19 had led to reduced hours, pay cuts and reduced recruitment in the sector, and as a union they need to find collective solutions to protect workers.

Pacific Trade Invest says 78% of respondents to its latest survey of Pacific businesses are confident their businesses will survive the COVID-19 crisis.

However the impact of COVID-19 on businesses has slightly worsened according to the survey, with 60% reporting a very negative impact, and 89% a negative impact.

62% of the resondents report a negative impact on their mental health.

Businesses continue to identify the three main challenges affecting them as poor cashflow, uncertainty over how long the crisis will last, and the impact of closed borders.

They say the three most needed areas of assistance are financial support, review of their financial position, and improved online commercial capabilities.

PTI has been running fortnightly surveys for several months and says it will continue to monitor business health and perceptions into 2021. This particular survey had 113 respondents.

The full survey can be viewed here: https://pacifictradeinvest.com/covid-19-response/pti-pacific-business-monitor

 

Worry for PNG business leaders

At a brief sitting of Papua New Guinea’s parliament in November – with all Opposition MPs absent – the James Marape government passed its 2021 Budget, before abruptly adjourning until next April.

Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey told the 51 MPs present in parliament that government expenditure was expected to reach K19.61 billion (US$5.58 billion) in 2021.

It was, he said, “a very substantial increase of 9%” on the 2020 fiscal year. “The domestic and international context for our 2021 budget is the most challenging in our nation’s history. Since 1975, there has never been … a global crisis as the one we are now facing today,” he said. The Budget for 2021 also reveals lower government revenue at K12.9 billion (US$3.67 billion), and the largest planned deficit of K6.63 billion (US$1.88 billion).

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“From capital to develop and export goods like coffee, to training and support with digital platforms, Pacific businesses – especially female-led business – are in urgent need of tangible support,” says the Pacific Trade Investment (PTI) Australia Trade & Investment Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 on female-led businesses in the Pacific continues to rise, according to the latest Pacific Business Monitor survey conducted by PTI.

The fifth survey in PTI’s ongoing series has found that 92% of female-led businesses have reported a fall in revenue.  In comparison to the previous survey, the number of fully operational female-led businesses has declined from 29% to 23%, while partially operational businesses have increased from 19% to 41%.

Jarvis states that despite the COVID-19 free status of most Pacific Island Countries (PICs) “the economic impact of closed borders has been debilitating, especially for nations that are reliant on tourism – a sector with a high proportion of female employees.”

“Many women are performing a juggling act – balancing work with being the primary care givers,’ explains Jarvis- a trend correlating to findings published in a recent report by the United Nations titled, ‘Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women’.

The UN report notes that girls and women are ‘suffering more’ due to many factors: home schooling, disproportionate lack of access to digital tools, work capital, skills and higher care responsibilities. 

The latest PTI survey finds that COVID-19 has had a ‘negative impact’ on the mental health of 31% of female-led business in contrast to 14% of male-led businesses.  Levels of happiness and optimism continue to decline as 45% report felling worried ‘most of the time’ or ‘all of the time’. 

Despite the negative impacts, more female-led businesses are implementing adaptive measures such as pivoting to online business, and seeking rent reductions or relief. 

Jarvis states that “it’s a long road ahead, and its vital that we continue to champion the voice of businesses in the Pacific by continuing to provide quantitative results to governments, donors and regional organisations so they can see the realities facing Pacific businesses.”

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