Dec 12, 2019 Last Updated 2:30 PM, Dec 11, 2019

By Caleb Jarvis

As a young boy growing up in Papua New Guinea (PNG), every Saturday Dad would drive up a windy road that overlooked 2-Mile settlement in Port Moresby, where people went about their daily lives. Looking out the window of our 1978 Toyota Corolla as we climbed the hill, the vibrant colours and the glistening tropical waters are forever etched in my memory. Dad and I were on our way to Taurama to collect the international newspapers and a Phantom comic, which arrived every week from Australia. As we reached our destination, there was a mass of people and all I could see was blood splattered all over the walls and across the road. Seeing the terror on my face, my father calmly explained that is was the stain from buai (betel nut) chewing and not to be concerned. PNG was certainly an exciting place to spend my childhood years. Having worked in the Pacific for more than 25 years, I have returned often to Port Moresby and marvelled at the bustling modern city it has become. The developments in the broader region have also been huge, particularly over the past ten years.

As Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) Australia celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, it’s an ideal time to reflect on how these developments will shape the next 40 years of trade and investment in the Pacific.

Below are what I see as some of the greatest changes in the past 40 years, and what the next 40 years must bring for the Pacific to grow and meet its enormous potential.

The changing nature of connectivity

The Pacific once felt isolated. Now it’s more mobile and global than ever before. When my family operated its business in PNG there was no internet or mobile phones and two-way radios were the norm for communication.

According to the GSMA’s Pacific Islands report, the region’s unique mobile subscriber base increased from 2.3 million in 2009 to 4.5 million in 2018.

By 2020, the economic contribution of mobile technology to the region’s GDP is expected to reach 6 per cent – with mobile services driving development in financial inclusion.

Now, thanks to sea cables, internet and mobile phone proliferation, the Pacific’s window to the world has increased the Pacific’s appetite to move regionally and globally. The flow of global information through Facebook, YouTube, Google and music has had an enormous impact on, and greatly influenced, the lives of Pacific people, especially the younger generations.

From a trade perspective, established and aspiring businesses in the Pacific have new affordable channels to access international markets, customers and information. They know what is being traded, where, and for how much – particularly important for economies heavily reliant on exports.

Right now, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Pacific still face barriers around small parcel logistics and affordable payment systems limiting their ability to take full advantage of digital connectivity.

Connectivity and technology are giving rise to a wave of new micro-enterprises. For example, locals can now use platforms such as Airbnb to generate additional family income.

It’s vital that investment in technology and improvements in the region’s connectivity and digital capacity building continues so that the Pacific can compete in global supply chains and find further efficiencies domestically.

Whether it’s selling goods, providing services or promoting tourism, the Pacific must be able to participate and promote itself digitally. It’s exciting to see this next generation of Pacific entrepreneurs already translating ideas into a Pacific context, for example GoFood in PNG, Cyber Food in Fiji and Seki eats in Samoa – all Pacific versions of Uber Eats.

In time, the improvements in connectivity and technology will enable significant advances in the delivery of education and health services to those in remote areas of the Pacific.

The changing nature of mobility

Deregulation of air services has resulted in more incoming and outgoing flights from the Pacific at more affordable prices.

Australia must embrace its neighbours in a sustainable and respectful manner. A new significant factor in worker mobility is Australia’s commitment to the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), which allows semi-skilled Pacific Islanders to work in regional and rural Australia for up to three years.

This will provide them with the opportunity to earn income and develop skills under the guidance of experienced professionals – something they can take with them and apply in their future work. The initial success seen through the pilot program has been immense both for the Australian employers and the Pacific workers.

Personally, the PLS is one of the greatest initiatives I’ve witnessed over the past 25 years of working across the Pacific. Under the scheme, Pacific workers are able to generate significant income and continue their learning while gaining international experience. There is much still to be done, but we must adopt a long-term view and give it the time and support it needs to achieve its potential.

Developing industries

The range and volume of exports from the Pacific has evolved enormously. Be it extractive industries, coffee, cocoa, fish, coconuts, root crops or bilum weaved goods, the Pacific has continually found ways to export its goods to the world.

With continued advances in connectivity, education and mobility, the Pacific’s exports can expand beyond physical goods to include services, knowledge and intellectual property.

Take, for example, the growing global interest in kava. Nobody is better positioned to share knowledge and lead the development of this growing industry than Fiji and Vanuatu.

In the future, Pacific enterprises need to value add their exports and move away from traditional export of commodities. Enterprises need to be consistent, improve quality and learn to tell the world their amazing stories. This will in turn allow them to charge premium prices to offset higher logistics costs due to the natural isolation of the Pacific islands.

Doing it the Pacific way

To ensure the Pacific plays to its strengths, it must use its resources, tourism assets, fertile land, abundant water, traditional knowledge and affordable labour force to support change and growth. This must be achieved in a way that respects the region and, more importantly, understands and works within the context of rich and diverse cultures and traditions.

PTI Australia must evolve and recognise that the support and advice we are asked for will change. Soon it may not be export advice related to physical goods, but advice on how to protect and sell intellectual property, how to sell and connect to digital marketplaces, and how to support the movement of Pacific Islanders to good work, temporary or long term, overseas.

While there is much work to be done, we can be certain that the next 40 years is going to be incredibly exciting for the Pacific.

Caleb Jarvis is the Pacific Trade Invest Australia’s Trade and Investment Commissioner. Founded in 1979, PTI Australia is an agency of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, funded by the Australian Government, that facilitates trade and investment in the Pacific islands.

This article first appeared on the DevPolicy Blog, published by the Development Policy Centre at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University

Vanuatu eyes growth of DOT VU

  • Dec 13, 2019
  • Published in March

VANUATU’S telecom regulator has welcomed the recent move by the ICAAN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) to reassign to it the country’s country-code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) name DOT VU (.vu).

ICAAN manages Internet identifiers globally, including Top Level Domain names for countries and generic names like .com and .org.

Since 1995 and the early days of the Internet in the Pacific region, Vanuatu’s ccTLD had been assigned to Telecom Vanuatu Ltd (TVL) and has been the subject of an ongoing tussle for control between TVL and the Vanuatu Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR), which has finally been handed the mantle after ICAAN’s board meeting on March 14 in Kobe, Japan.

“These changes set the scope for a competitive market for .vu domain names,” TRBR said in a statement.

“TRBR has created an environment where multiple Registrars can make their own unique offerings and pricing for .vu names. TRBR wants to encourage the other local Internet Service Providers and possibly web designers to consider becoming Registrars or Resellers of .vu names. A strong collaboration between TRBR and the new Registry Operator is expected to lead to growth of the number of .vu names through international Registrars and resellers across the Internet,” TRBR added.

Over the years and without appropriate laws in Vanuatu, .vu has been at the brunt of domain name abuses, so-called cybersquatting – where ‘squatters’ register and buy domain names cheaply then resell them at higher prices. This emerged as a major concern for the tiny island nation in 2013.

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THE worldwide grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircrafts has prompted the Government of Samoa to defer the commissioning of its new Boeing 737 MAX 9, which was to have taken place next month (April 2019).

Recent air disasters involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8 have forced the hands of airlines around the world to ground their aircraft, and prompted Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and China to slap a ban on the 737 MAX series in their airspaces.

“The crash of two brand new 737 MAX 8 within the span of five months has shaken the world of aviation and unless we have received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority and Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety, we will not bring that aircraft to Samoa,” Minister of Public Enterprises Lautafi Selafi Purcell told the Samoa Observer.

Last month, an Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 bound for Nairobi, Kenya, crashed six minutes after takeoff from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 148 passengers and eight crew members on board.

On October 29 last year, Indonesian airline Lion Air flight JT610 destined for Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia crashed 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport, killing 184 passengers and five crewmembers on board.

Both accidents involved a Boeing 737 MAX 8.

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Scanning the story of a fish

Imagine typing a code from a can of tuna into your phone as you stand in a supermarket aisle to find out where the fish in the can was caught, and the name of the ship which landed it.

This is the vision of information technology professional Ken Katafono, who is breaking new grounds in the Pacific.

He has just launched TraSeable Solutions Pte Ltd, a fully home-grown tech start-up specialising in the provision of blockchain-based traceability solutions to the region’s fishing industry.

It’s a pioneering move, given that blockchain (or Distributed Ledger Technology as it is often referred to) is in its infancy in the region.

The company says the technology it provides will provide a degree of transparency for our region’s fishing industry that has never been seen before.

The Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project uses digital technology to strengthen the supply chain management of the fresh and frozen tuna sectors in the Western and Central Pacific regions.

It is a collaboration involving TraSeable, WWF through WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Australia and WWF-Fiji, global tech innovator ConsenSys, and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji ltd.

By using blockchain-based traceability solutions, a tuna product can be traced back to the original fish caught, as fishermen are required to register their catch on the blockchain through Radio Frequency Tagging (RFID) and scanning of fish.

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Raising debates on legality and privacy

When you make a phone call, send an email or use your Facebook page, information that you send across the airwaves or through the Internet can be scooped up by Western intelligence agencies. In the United States, there has been widespread public debate over government monitoring of telecommunications and the Internet, after a contractor working for the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed programmes that targeted domestic communications as well as foreign enemies.

Whistle blower Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then Russia, leaking documents to the media which revealed surveillance programmes known as PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora. In the Pacific region, countries like Australia, New Zealand and France also operate signals intelligence and communications intercept programmes, which monitor diplomatic, commercial or military communications from other nations. There is growing concern that government agencies and private corporations are also gathering data from citizens at home, raising debates over legality and privacy.

In recent months, this issue has been debated in New Zealand after Prime Minister John Key introduced legislation in Parliament to expand the powers of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)—New Zealand’s communications intelligence agency. In July, there were rallies in 11 cities around New Zealand to protest the draft legislation, which was still before Parliament at the time of writing. Australia and New Zealand collaborate in the region under the UKUSA Agreement, which shares intelligence amongst the agencies of five Western allies.

The “Five Eyes” which monitor communications are the NSA and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), supported by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), New Zealand’s GCSB and the newly renamed Australian Signals Directorate (The ASD was formerly called the Defence Signals Directorate, but was rebadged in May this year when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched Canberra’s latest Defence White Paper). ASD is Australia’s primary collector of signals intelligence and other electronic data, through the interception and reporting of communications like international phone calls, emails or military radios.

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