Fiji and Australian Business Councils to address post COVID recovery

Photo: Fiji Australia Business Council/Facebook

Government and business professionals from Fiji and Australia will convene at the 27th Australia-Fiji Business Forum in Sydney next week.

After a two-year hiatus, the Australia-Fiji Business Forum will be held for the first time in Australia since 2019 and is expected to host 140 people.

Jointly organised by the Australia-Fiji Business Council and Fiji-Australia Business Council, the theme for this year’s Forum is “The New Fiji: Reopen for Business”.

The Forum has a line up of engaging speakers including Manoa Kamikamica, Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Cooperatives and Small & Medium Industries; Biman Prasad, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Viliame Gavoka.

The Australia Fiji Business Council (AFBC) says the Forum aims to provide businesses with information on current and potential opportunities in Fiji while also fostering closer ties between Australian and Fijian enterprises.

“A lot of Australian companies see a lot of opportunity to work with Pacific Island businesses to help restore the economies after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frank Yourn, AFBC Executive Director told Islands Business.

Yourn said many Pacific Island economies have been “badly damaged” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “A lot of national budgets are really struggling now and they will rely on donor assistance to help restore their budgets. But the thing that will best help restore their budgets is to make sure that their private sector is working effectively and is contributing through jobs, revenue, and taxes.

“Australia is the biggest investor in a lot of the Melanesian countries — Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji. So I think there’s certainly a strong sense of goodwill from Australian businesses who want to support and assist Pacific businesses to get back on their feet after COVID through working together.”

Construction and technical services for the marine environment, renewable energy technologies, water infrastructure and climate change adaptation solutions are some sectors that have scope for growth and expansion in the Pacific, said Brad Williams, Australia’s Senior Trade Commissioner for New Zealand and the Pacific.

Williams believes Telstra’s purchase of Digicel Pacific creates momentum for technology reform across the Pacific and hopefully “create opportunities for IT businesses as well as business processing outsourcing centres. We know that’s an area where Fiji is particularly strong, so we hope to hear more about that [at the Forum].

“I think Australia’s got a strong track record as well for supplying high quality food and beverage into the tourism sector in Fiji. And I think with the very impressive rebound that we’ve seen from the tourism sector in Fiji post COVID, [it] has been very encouraging.

“There are a couple of speakers at the Forum that [will be] talking about Fiji’s developing agriculture and education sectors. I think there are opportunities for Fiji to draw Australian business knowledge and technologies in those sectors as well,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, Queensland Trade Commissioner for the Pacific, Leata Alaimoana, says while many Queensland companies have been doing business across the Pacific, the key message she will be taking to the three-day forum is addressing how best to support them, as well as their Pacific counterparts.

“Something that we’ve actively done since I’ve come on board is listening to both sides because we’re not just looking at positive economic outcomes for Queensland, it’s also for the Pacific Islands. We very much see this as a two-way partnership.

Alaimoana, who is of Samoan heritage, was recently appointed to the new role in March this year, becoming the first Pacific Islander to do so.

“I like it when people say that they see Queensland as the Pacific state for Australia, because it’s true and we’re proud of it as well.”

Alaimoana said most Queensland companies working in Pacific Island countries are involved in renewables, food and agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, and “there’s quite a lot of Queensland companies that are supporting aviation across the Pacific Islands including Fiji.”

“There’s also an opportunity to leverage sports diplomacy [between Queensland and the Pacific],” she said. “We’ve got the Olympics coming up in [Brisbane] in 2032… We’ve identified opportunities to support sports teams to work closely together with the Pacific Islands.”

“We’re a very proactive state government and the only state that has a Pacific Trade Strategy in Australia. We work very closely with our federal government and our local city councils. We’ve got sister cities arrangements across the Pacific Islands and we are looking at growing that.”

Bookings for the 27th Australia-Fiji Business Forum are now open.