Dec 15, 2017 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Dec 12, 2017

Setting up a regional development bank gained the support of the Association of Development Financing Institutions of the Pacific meeting in Nuku’alofa last month. Tonga’s Acting Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu floated the idea when he opened the regional conference. He noted the establishment of the Asian Development Bank, a Caribbean Development Bank and an African Development Bank and the most recent announcement of another development bank by the BRICS group of countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“I urge all of you, the bank practitioners and institutions to move the development bank from being recognised as a national aspiration to a regional ambition by seriously considering the setting-up of a Pacific Development Bank,” Vaipulu told delegates. He also moved for this regional bank to be set up in Tonga, saying that the government would fully support it.

He suggested the proposed Pacific Development Bank would provide an alternative for financial institutions sometimes accused of attaching stringent and unfair conditions to their developmental loan facilities. General Manager and CEO of Tonga’s Development Bank, Leta Havea Kami told Islands Business magazine that such an institution would be a “conduit for funding to come to small island states.” Although the regional development bank has been discussed in previous meetings over the years, Kami said that since the challenge has been made at a government level, it has become more specific.

“It’s now about how to actually get about setting it up. We can do the ground work but it’s for ministers to do the lobbying.” This was the 29th Annual General Meeting for ADFIP. Acting PM Vaipulu noted that the countries in the region were small and served small markets, but the impact it makes are significant.

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The introduction of sonar capable satellite buoys that are attached to FADs (Fish Aggregating Device) is poised to be a “game changer” in the Pacific’s lucrative skipjack tuna fishery with indications that it may change the way the skipjack fishery is managed and how the much acclaimed Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is implemented in future. As currently implemented by the eight member countries of the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and Tokelau, the VDS puts a cap on the number of fishing days made available to fish tuna in the waters of PNA member countries.

These are namely domestic boats and those from the European Union, United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Taiwan. Through the introduction of VDS, fishing effort has been limited, and tuna revenue for island nations has more than quadrupled over the last four to five years; from US$60 million in 2010 to about US$300 million today. At its inception, one fishing day was snapped up for between US$500 to $2500.

Today, some PNA countries are selling theirs from between US$10,000 to over $12,000 a day, with a minimum price of $8000 in 2015. Now an adjustment to the VDS may have to be considered with the recent introduction of sonar technology into FADs. Until now, fishing boats especially the gigantic purse seiners have been using FADS to make fishing more efficient. Fish tend to aggregate around these devices, which can either be anchored to the ocean floor, or more commonly drift freely.

All a purse seiner need to do is to steam to a floating FAD it had deployed weeks or months earlier to check on schools of tuna present. Prior to satellite tracking, less than 10 FADs could be managed, with satellite that went to up to 100, but still there was no guarantee that the FAD had attracted tuna.

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Currency fluctuations have heavily deterred Australians from taking overseas holidays over Christmas in the past but this time around travel tour companies do not anticipate a slowdown in visitors to the Pacific islands despite the dollar dropping significantly this year. Tour operators and hoteliers in the region need not fear a slump in tourists in the 2014- 2015 season because savvy travellers from Australia are opting to take out new prepaid travel cards which allow users to lock in foreign currencies at that day’s exchange rate, a better deal than using regular credit cards.

Foreign tourists entering the islands region from Australia by far exceed travellers from other destinations with exponential growth in numbers over the last decade. Fiji, alone absorbed 332,000 Australians in 2012 – a phenomenal rise from just 128,000 in 2002. The Australian dollar was riding at US$1.01 in 2011 – which gave travellers a healthy exchange when they took holidays abroad but now it has slumped to US87 cents with some analysts tipping a further decline to as little as US77 cents in 2015. “Australians have gained an appetite for overseas travel on the back of our currency kudos,” said corporate affairs manager Haydn Long at Flight Centre – the leading travel agency in Australia.

“The dollar’s powerful ride has allowed us to stay and live larger” while travelling overseas to exotic destinations like the South Pacific. Long said Flight Centre recommends travellers this year to book and pay for hotels, transport and excursions ahead in Australia to avoid nasty exchange rate surprises on your trip. “Pay as much as you can of your travel before you go. This way you lock in a rate and you know how much you have left to budget for spending money,” said Long.

Four-star stays Australian agents have also noticed travellers are exploring budget stays in the region so they can have greater spending dollars. Travel agencies have over recent months begun offering discounts on airfares and packages to entice travellers. “If the dollar is weaker, they may shorten their stay or opt for four-star accommodation rather than five,” he said. Travel Money Oz general manager Dion Jensen recommends using currency exchange outlets which include commission and fees in their advertised rates. “Avoid airports and tourist areas as the currency exchange businesses in these areas have a captive audience and will offer the worst rate and higher fees and commissions,” cautioned Jenson.

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SkyDive Fiji has purchased Sunflower Aviation for an undisclosed amount after American Samoan airliner Inter Island Airways failed to complete the acquisition last year. The new owners are husband and wife duo, Susan and Tim Joyce who set up their first business operation - Skydive Fiji, in 2003 and are now expanding with plans already in place for their company – Joyce Aviation Fiji Limited to start domestic flights. Tim Joyce -- Managing Director of Joyce Aviation Fiji -- said they have applied to Fiji’s Air Transport Licensing Board to mount daily flights to two local tourist destinations.

He said tourist’s demands and providing a career path for students of their pilot training school in Nadi prompted the latest acquisition. “Introducing aeroplane scenic flights and charters was largely driven by a need to provide a stepping stone for Pacific Flying School students because it’s very hard to gain flying experience after spending all the money on learning to fly. “In my experience, completing your pilot’s licence is only the start so getting your first job and getting your first bit of experience is so critical.

“I see it as dovetailing in with all of our operations if we can also have charter and joy flights which we are introducing with smaller aircraft such as the Cessna 172, 182, 206 right up to the Islander. “We will start feeding the students into the operation once they have commercial licenses giving them the opportunity to build up commercial experience in a very controlled environment, initially doing joy flights and then charters under close supervision.” Fiji’s Air Transport Licensing Board (ALTB) Chairman Ernest Dutta says they have considered the application and a recommendation has been made to the Minister. “There are a number of requirements as outlined in the Licensing of Air Services Regulations, and the applicant has met all these requirements.

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W hen over a hundred Pacific island power utility officials meet for their annual conference in Majuro next year, they will see new heat recovery generators in action at the capital city’s power plant. Majuro is the first island in the Pacific to see an investment in waste-heat-to-power equipment by General Electric’s Power and Water Heat Recovery Solutions. An agreement signed at the beginning of September by Marshalls Energy Company and GE Power and Water Health Recovery Solutions officials paves the way for GE’s US$2.4 million investment at the Majuro utility company’s main power station. It is not only GE’s first energy efficiency investment in the island region, it is the first United States company to invest in the Marshall Islands in decades.

The new equipment will reduce the utility’s fuel costs while cutting its carbon emissions, said Marshalls Energy Company General Manager David Paul. He touts the investment as a key demonstration that small islands can and should take steps to curb carbon emissions, even if the pollution generated by tiny population is miniscule by world standards. Paul says the deal will improve the utility company’s financial outlook, while showing the rest of the world that the Marshall Islands is taking steps to reduce pollution that is causing global warming.

The new system, expected to be up and running by early 2015, will: • Generate about 1.6 million kilowatt hours per year, which translates into potential electricity revenue of US$725,000 a year. • Result in reducing fuel use at the power plant of up to 100,000 gallons a year, a savings of over US$300,000 at current fuel prices. The U.S. company is financing the entire $2.4 million cost of equipment and installation, which will also involved Marshall Islands power plant engineers.

The utility will pay GE 85 percent of the fuel savings up to a maximum of $20,000 per month for the next 10 years. A key element of the deal is GE is guaranteeing performance of the system, with financial benefits to the Majuro utility if it under-performs.

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