Opinion: What do the stats tell us about the impacts of COVID-19 on Pacific economies – Q4 2021

Port of Suva: Customs officers facilitate trade to earn revenue for their governments. With COVID-19, customs administrations play a critical role in protecting nations from the virus while manning ports of entries.

Key economic indicators from the final quarter of 2021 indicate an uneven recovery for Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) economies from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new paper from the Pacific Community.

While economic activity in several of the hardest-hit PICT economies continues to struggle to regain pre-pandemic conditions, the region’s ongoing COVID vaccination rollout, bilateral travel bubbles, and relaxed travel restrictions during the quarter saw the positive signs of economic recovery recorded in Quarter 3, 2021 continue into Quarter 4, 2021.

Fiji recorded an 2466.7% increase in tourism revenue in the final quarter of 2021, signalling the continuation of economic recovery for much of the region.

This strong recovery is welcome news after the near total collapse in the tourism in the region seen in Quarter 1, 2021.

Against the December quarter 2020, exceptional increases in visitor arrivals were recorded in Quarter 4, 2021 for Fiji, Guam, Solomon Islands, with Palau soaring 3700%, while French Polynesia and New Caledonia saw a double-digit increases over the same period.

Export revenues also increased grew in the same period with Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Samoa and French Polynesia showing robust growth in Quarter 4 2021.

While tourism and export revenues have strengthened, PICT labour markets in Quarter 4, 2021 remained fragile with employment indicators for Samoa and Solomon Islands dropping further against Quarter 4, 2020, extending the declining trend since the start of the pandemic. The 2.6 percent fall in provident fund contributors for Solomon Islands reflected the continuous freeze by the public sector and some private companies due to the uncertainties created by COVID-19.

Statistics on remittances, which have been a vital source of funds for daily basic-needs as jobs have been lost, showed strong growth for major remittance countries during the reporting quarter.

However, while remittances dropped for Solomon Islands, remittance receipts for Fiji and Samoa showed double digit increases, there was also moderate growth in remittances to Tonga when compared to September quarter 2021.

While these statistics may signal the beginning of the economic recovery for the region, ongoing job losses, fiscal pressures and increasing government debts and rising inflation continue to have an adverse impact on the levels of hardship, cost of living and poverty being experienced by households and families across the region.