Feb 27, 2021 Last Updated 4:38 AM, Feb 26, 2021

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 Island nations risk being left behind in the race to decarbonise the shipping industry, despite leading the way on this issue at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Dr Peter Nuttall, who is the Scientific and Technical Advisor for the Micronesian Center for Sustainable Transport at the University of the South Pacific, says change is happening at an almost “terrifying speed, it’s a global revolution” and the Pacific is not keeping up.

“Ten years ago when I started building this global research program, we were told there would be hydrogen engines by 2050; there are hydrogen ships today, there will be mainstream hydrogen ships operating by 2030. There will not be fossil fuel ships – that is the speed with which the industry and technology is moving. There is a huge risk we will get left behind, an enormous risk that we will get left behind.”

Shipping contributes some 3% of the world’s annual carbon emissions, and Dr Nuttall warns that the Pacific will be left paying carbon levies and fuel taxes if we can’t keep step with the transformation the industry is already undergoing.

Since 2015, the Marshall Islands has been leading a Pacific crusade at the IMO—emboldened by the fact that 12%  of the world’s ships sail under the Marshallese flag, and spurred by the vision of the late Marshallese foreign minister, Tony deBrum, to cut shipping emissions.

“I think they’ve done a brilliant job of displaying their leadership,” says Dr Nuttall. “They’ve used their leadership to coagulate a coalition of high ambition countries to really try and drive this agenda of decarbonisation at the IMO.”

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The United States is contributing US$2 million (FJ$4.07 million) to the Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Center (PFTAC). First established in 1993 to promote macro-financial stability in the Pacific island countries through technical assistance and training, PFTAC was the first of the International Monetary Fund regional technical assistance centers. The goal of PFTAC is to strengthen the institutional capacity of Pacific countries to design and implement sound macroeconomic and financial policies.

Port Denarau Marina is a finalist in the Best Superyacht Marina Australasia category of the ACREW Superyacht Business Awards 2020. The nomination is based on captain and crew experiences for the last season. The Best Superyacht Marina Award recognises the marina for providing the best standard of services and facilities to Superyacht Captains & Crew. The marina is also praised for their willingness to assist Superyacht guests; ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Voting is now open for ACREW’s some 15,000 members.

BSP Convertible Notes Limited (BCN) has reported a profit after income tax of F$2,606,665.00 for the year ended 31 December 2020. BCN was incorporated in April 2010 to facilitate the issuance of convertible notes to Fiji investors. The holders of the Fiji class shares receive dividends equivalent to the dividends that will be paid on BSP ordinary shares listed on Port Moresby Stock Exchange, expressed in Fiji Dollars.

Work will soon commence on Lautoka Yard 3, an extension to busy Lautoka Wharf following a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday. Fiji Ports Chair Shaheen Ali told officials at the ceremony that the pandemic saw a reduction of Fiji’s re-exports in 2020, by 38%, as well as reduced imports by 34% compared to the same period in 2019. The silver lining is, our balance of trade deficit has narrowed by 44%.

“The 8.2-million-dollar investment in this container yard (Yard 3) could not be timelier. It will increase the ability of Lautoka Port to store up to approximately 1,260 containers in this new facility. Lautoka Port capacity is approximately 40,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit). This will therefore significantly boost our ability and ambition to trade and be the transshipment hub in the Pacific.”

China Railway First Group won the contract for this work.

Fiji Kava has released its half year financial results (for the six months ending 31 December 2020) and it reports revenue of A$496,379 for the period, up 111% on the previous six months. Fiji Kava reported a statutory net loss of A$1.5 million, a 28% improvement over the prior period, which it attributes to increased sales and decreased expenses due to tight cost controls over operations. It identifies supplier details with Blackmores company BioCeuticals in Australia and supply, distribution and marketing deals in China as highlights for the half-year. Fiji Kava says challenges due to customs delays, testing bottlenecks and freight constraints show early signs of normalising. It continues to invest in developing potential new products, including capsules, drinking kava, tea bags and speciality ingredients. Read the full statement here 

A repatriation flight from Fiji to Kiribati had to be cancelled on Sunday because Fiji Airways does not have the crew to service the flight. A statement from the Kiribati President’s office says: "Fiji Airways confirmed in its communication that the mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement for flight crews upon arrival in Nadi when they carry passengers into Fiji has contributed to difficulties in acquiring the required crew for this chartered flight. Fiji Airways indicated that this issue may be extended until March, but this will be firmed at a later date.” Kiribati is looking at other options in the meantime.   

Meanwhile Fiji Airways is extending the use of flight credits to the end of 2022. The credits are for cancelled flights resulting from COVID-19 enforced border closures from 19 March last year. Scheduled commercial flights on the airline’s international network suspended in March continue while border restrictions remain in place at Fiji Airways’ destinations.

The Sydney-headquartered contact centre company Unity4 plans to set up in Fiji, employing 30 people as a start. Unity4 will add Suva to the list of its centres this year. It already operates in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the USA.

The South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPX) says average total stock market return for 2020 stood at 9.1% (tax-free) in comparison to 43% the previous year. The result is largely attributed to declines in share prices recorded by 9 of the 20 listed entities. The volume and value of trades also fell significantly by 67.5%  percent and 65.4%, respectively owing in part to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and no new entity listings.

The  Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) plans to acquire the QBE Insurance Arcade Building (subject to usual regulatory consents), reassuring its members that while it is being conservative in its investment approach during the pandemic, it also recognises investment opportunities available in the market. The acquisition will add to the Fund’s overall property portfolio, which now stands at 29 properties.

Fiji will welcome back the United States reality show Survivor to begin production in the country this month. It’s the  first major  production  approved  under the  Fijian  COVID  Safe  Economic Framework.  Beginning in mid-February, the cast and crew will enter Fiji in three groups, adhering to the 72-hour pre-departure testing then 14-days quarantine at a Government designated quarantine facility under 24/7surveillance from the RFMF and supervision of our Health experts.

The iTaukei Trust Fund Board (TTFB) and the Home Finance Company Pte Ltd  (HFC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that sees the establishment of a Loan Guarantee Scheme (LGS) to enhance the entrepreneurial drive of existing or potential local resource owners’ businesses post COVID-19.

Free Bird Limited has opened a new restaurant in Lautoka offering Japanese Udon meals. Executive Chair, Hiroshi Taniguchi said they had been looking at how to diversify the business, capture the local market and manage its risk portfolio and that the venture will “allow us to continue to employ people in our business.”  Chief Financial Officer, Waisale Iowane said, “The opening of this restaurant will assist us reduce our reliance on revenue from the international market to some extent. Whilst this expansion is relatively small given our scale of operations, we believe that this is a step in the right direction for us.”

The Republic of China (Taiwan) is setting up a new Centre for Agricultural Technology Transfer in Nausori, Fiji. Representative of Taipei Trade Office in Fiji Jessica Lee said the centre represents a FJ$3 million(US$1.5 million) funds injection. The Centre will house two smart greenhouses, built with sensors of controlling lighting, temperature, humidity and data mining, which will be suitable for high valued crops cultivation and production as well as weather resilience for cyclone and earthquake. 

The World Bank has approved a US$50 million (FJD$102.7 million) Credit to support Fiji’s recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and severe tropical cyclones Harold and Yasa. The project has a special focus on women who have been disproportionally affected by the crisis.  The Fiji Social Protection COVID-19 Response and System Development Project – which is the first project announced following the recent approval of the World Bank Group’s new Country Partnership Framework for Fiji – will support the government’s COVID-19 relief measures, with a particular focus on cash transfers targeting Fijians in the formal sector who have lost their jobs or have had their working reduced hours as a result of COVID-19 through the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF).

Fiji’s trade minister, Faiyaz Koya has told a real estate agents conference that while the COVID-19 pandemic has nearly brought the industry to a halt, the review of the Real Estates Agents Act will strengthen professionalism and transparency in the industry. The Reserve Bank states that commercial banks’ new lending for investment purposes declined by 24.9% in 2020, driven by lower lending to the real estate (-25.7%) and building & construction (-23.1%) sectors.

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Lion One Metals Ltd has received high-grade gold results from two recent drill holes, one deep and one shallow, at its 100% controlled Tuvatu alkaline gold project in Fiji. It describes the interval discovered during the shallow drill as “narrow but exceptionally high-grade.” “This is a big step-out and gives us high confidence we have discovered a significant root structure below the Tuvatu lode system,” said Lion One technical advisor Quinton Hennigh.

Fiji Airways has been awarded the Diamond certification, the highest standard for travel safeguards in a COVID-19 world by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and SimpliFlying. The rating is offered only to airlines that provide hospital-grade health safety measures. The intensive audit investigates 58 areas across 10 stages of a customer’s airline experience; from online check-in, testing and contact tracing, airport journey, lounge, and onboard experience, and upon arrival at a destination. Fiji Airways becomes the first airline in the world its size to attain the Diamond certification, joining the likes of United Airlines, Etihad Airways, Alaska Airlines, Qatar Airways, Saudia, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic, and Air Canada.

Fiji has signed an agreement with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility that will unlock up to US$12.5 million (approx. FJ$26 million) in results-based payments for increasing carbon sequestration and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The five-year agreement will reward efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation under Fiji’s emission reductions program which aims to reduce emissions by 2.5 million tonnes over five years and contribute to restoration of ecosystem services essential for increasing resilience to climate change, such as soil retention and flood regulation.

 The RB Patel Group has declared an interim dividend of 1.5 cents per share totalling $2.25 million, to be paid on 24 February 2021. Board Chairman Yogesh Karan said "The results for the half year demonstrates the company's resilience in turbulent times. Although turnover and profits are below last year's results the performance is very respectable with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, closed borders and a significant economic downturn". The turnover for the current period was $67M compared to $69M last year a decline of just over 3%. Profit after tax for the six months was $3.9M against last year's $4.2M, a drop of almost 8%. Income from other sources which is mainly rental income saw a decline of just over 35%. The company provided rebates to tenants who were impacted by the pandemic on a case-by-case basis mainly in our JetPoint Complex in Nadi. Some tenants had to terminate their tenancies.

Reserve Bank of Fiji Governor Ariff Ali says the return of economic activity in Fiji to pre-pandemic levels will be long and uncertain given the extended closure of international borders. “However, the recent vaccine rollout announcements, both locally and in major tourism source markets of Australia and New Zealand, are pulses of positivity. Based on the vaccination outturn globally and the possible commencement of international travel later in the second half of the year, the Fijian economy is anticipated to register positive growth in 2021.”

Ali says  the financial system remains stable, bolstered by strong capital and liquidity positions of banks. However, vulnerabilities emanating from a prolonged economic downturn could heighten debt serviceability pressures and loan defaults in the near to medium term.

Free Bird Institute has been given the nod to allow international students from China and South Korea to enter Fiji as long as they are brought in a COVID-safe manner. Chief Financial Officer, Waisale Iowane said, “Students from China and South Korea are collectively the secondary market for FBL…we are confident that we would be able to capitalise on this opportunity.”

Kontiki Finance has appointed a new director, Cecil Browne. He has 47 years’ experience in the banking industry with more than half of them in executive roles, retiring as Bank of the South Pacific Fiji GM Corporate in November 2019 where he worked for 10 years.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Secretariat and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) have discussed a proposed Regional Symposium on Trade Financing for Micro Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). The symposium is scheduled for March and will discuss a way forward for new and enhanced strategies on Trade Financing for MSMEs. It is expected that this will be done through sharing of lessons learnt and exchange of information amongst regional and international trade officials. 

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