NZ-Fiji Bub­ble Could EAsE tHE PA­CIfiC PAIn

Fiji Sun - - BUSINESS - JILL HERRON NEWSROOM, NEW ZEALAND E:maraia.vula@fi­jisun.com.fj

Open­ing a ‘busi­ness bub­ble’ be­tween Fiji and New Zealand would be a pos­i­tive ini­tial step to help re­lieve hard­ships in the Pa­cific, ac­cord­ing to a busi­ness leader.

Man­ager of Trade and In­vest­ment for Fiji Trade Com­mis­sion Peter Rudd said that open­ing up trade chan­nels would have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the strug­gling Fi­jian econ­omy hard hit by the loss of in­ter­na­tional tourism.

“A busi­ness bub­ble could def­i­nitely be work­able with the right pro­cesses in place,” he said. Many large Kiwi com­pa­nies op­er­ated in the is­land na­tion in­clud­ing Ful­ton Ho­gan and Fletcher Con­struc­tion, some of this in tourism devel­op­ments and in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects like bridge works.

“Busi­ness travel rep­re­sents 15 per cent of traf­fic, a lot of it is re­peat vis­its and it’s a two-way street be­tween New Zealand and Fiji,” Mr Rudd said.

About the Trade Com­mis­sion

The Fiji Trade Com­mis­sion to New Zealand is a part of the Fi­jian Min­istry of Com­merce, Trade, Tourism and Trans­port and deals with trade and in­vest­ment across all sec­tors in Fiji.

Fiji is the hub of the Pa­cific re­gion for a range of in­dus­tries. “Dur­ing the pan­demic we sup­ported in­vest­ments in sec­tors in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture, ICT, ed­u­ca­tion, con­struc­tion and in­fra­struc­ture, Au­dio Vis­ual such as Film & TV and man­u­fac­tur­ing. As bor­ders are closed and Covid has been elim­i­nated in Fiji, many in­vestors are ea­ger to re­turn to Fiji and con­tinue their op­er­a­tions.” Fiji is NZ’s largest Pa­cific Is­land trad­ing part­ner, with a grow­ing num­ber of Ki­wis trav­el­ling there, he said.

Life dur­ing COVID-19

Fiji has not had any new cases of COVID-19 for two months, af­ter quickly shut­ting down those that did ap­pear back in March. There have been no deaths and a to­tal of 18 cases recorded.

“They man­aged to act quickly when they first iden­ti­fied a case, shut­ting down the area where the case was iden­ti­fied and ac­tively stop­ping the spread and com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion,” he said.

The peo­ple had en­dured some “hard cur­fews and en­force­ment” but were now COVID-19-free.

Busi­ness there had the added dif­fi­culty of not hav­ing the same ca­pa­bil­i­ties as New Zealand to quickly switch to work­ing from home to keep things go­ing.

“We need staff on the ground over there.”

Pa­cific Is­lands vi­able

Mr Rudd said it was crit­i­cal to keep COVID-19 out as an out­break could be dev­as­tat­ing, but he be­lieved open­ing up a ‘busi­ness bub­ble’ could be achiev­able.

In terms of man­ag­ing any bub­ble ar­range­ments, he be­lieved that New Zealand should look to the Pa­cific first, as Aus­tralia was still pre­sent­ing with new COVID-19 cases.

“When you have var­i­ous states and au­thor­i­ties to deal with, some with in­ter­nal bor­ders closed and oth­ers not, how do you man­age that? I think this is an op­por­tu­nity to look at not just Fiji but other Pa­cific na­tions like the Cooks too.”

Be­ing open for tourism travel would of course be of much greater ben­e­fit, with 24,000 Ki­wis nor­mally vis­it­ing each month be­tween June and Septem­ber, but he felt busi­ness-only traf­fic was now pos­si­bly a more re­al­is­tic first step.

Boost­ing Tourism

“We are Fiji’s sec­ond-largest tourism mar­ket af­ter Aus­tralia. While it’s un­likely that the num­ber of tourists would reach preCOVID lev­els soon af­ter re­open­ing, 10 per cent to 15 per cent of New Zealand vis­i­tors go to Fiji for busi­ness or em­ploy­ment rea­sons and most likely will be the first re­turn­ing vis­i­tors once the bor­ders re­open,” Mr Rudd said.

He said it was dis­ap­point­ing to see new COVID-19 cases ap­pear­ing now in New Zealand.

Busi­ness con­sul­tant Mar­cus Lang­ford-Lee be­lieved that a busi­ness bub­ble would ease the in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in Fiji, but only open­ing up to tourism would pro­vide real re­lief.

“Fiji is do­ing it tough at the mo­ment be­cause they’ve lost all their tourism. They are very wor­ried.

“Peo­ple are say­ing that by Septem­ber things are re­ally go­ing to start to bite for a lot of busi­nesses.

“A busi­ness bub­ble would be great, it would help, but would it re­ally help the tourism?” he said.

Cur­rently stuck in New Zealand, he was keen to get back to Fiji and re­sume work in ad­vis­ing on sys­tems, struc­tures and pro­cesses on var­i­ous devel­op­ments. Hous­ing and is­land re­sorts made up the bulk of the multi-mil­lion dol­lar pro­jects the con­sul­tancy dealt with.

Lang­ford-Lee said that he be­lieved it made sense to try and keep peo­ple in New Zealand, es­pe­cially over the school hol­i­days to spend on do­mes­tic travel.

How­ever, he didn’t be­lieve re­stric­tions on travel should be re­tained solely to in­flu­ence where Ki­wis spent their hol­i­day dol­lars.

Trans-Tas­man Safe Zone

“It feels like be­ing con­trolled, peo­ple should have a free will. If the coun­try’s got no COVID there [Fiji] … they can’t put re­stric­tions on for the sake of putting re­stric­tions on.”

In a state­ment, the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade said Aus­tralia and New Zealand’s Prime Min­is­ters had com­mit­ted to in­tro­duc­ing a trans-Tas­man COVID-safe travel zone as soon as it was safe to do so.

The Min­istry would not be drawn on whether this com­mit­ment in­volved that zone open­ing first, be­fore any other, but re­it­er­ated that in­ves­ti­ga­tions were on­go­ing in the Pa­cific.

“Along­side this, of­fi­cials con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate and build en­gage­ment with the Realm and Pa­cific na­tions about a safe travel zone.

“New Zealand has close con­nec­tions with the Pa­cific, par­tic­u­larly the Realm coun­tries as they are New Zealand cit­i­zens.

“We will be very mind­ful of this as we ex­plore op­tions for our bor­der. The po­ten­tial for a travel zone has been dis­cussed at a high level with some Pa­cific part­ners.

“We are very aware that safe travel zones could be a way to soften the eco­nomic and so­cial im­pacts of COVID-19 in the Pa­cific through re­con­nect­ing on tourism, work, ed­u­ca­tion and fam­ily con­nec­tions. How­ever, it re­mains im­per­a­tive that we avoid the spread of COVID-19 within the re­gion,” he said.

The Fi­jian Sun news­pa­per this week re­ported calls for the na­tion to be con­sid­ered in any re­gional travel ar­range­ments.

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