Don’t be Belligerent
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama should stop being belligerent and participate in the Pacific Islands Forum in Papua New Guinea.
The PM should stop dictating terms to the Forum to force out Australia and New Zealand out of the 16-member organization that has existed for 44 years. He deliberately ignores the fact that both our neighbours are founding members of the Forum along with Fiji.
And Fiji’s importance in the Forum is cemented by the fact that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has been domiciled in Suva for many years.
It is abundantly clear that the PM wants new members in the Forum who obviously befriended Fiji after the coup. These countries were not Forum members but dialogue partners. Australia and New Zealand, like the European Union and the United States, adopted a stance in conformity to their democratic ideals by suspending direct Aid to Fiji.
But they continued to assist Fiji in terms of empowerment of Non-Governmental Organisations, funding development projects through NGO’s, donations during natural disasters in 2009 and 2012 and contributing funding towards the work of the Constitution Commission in 2012 led by Professor Yash Ghai.
Most importantly, Australia and New Zealand are our closest allies. One does not ditch long-standing friends to include new ones. Both nations are our long-term trading partners. Australia is our principal export destination and in 2013, Fiji’s exports amount to 13.6% of total exports worth $250 million.
Australia and New Zealand are our two biggest sources of tourists. An average of 50% of our total number of tourists are Australians while New Zealanders make up 16% of our tourist market.
With a combined GDP of more than 1.6 trillion US Dollars, Australia and New Zealand will remain significant economic partners in the future. We should concentrate on deeper and more meaningful regional integration, which includes Australia and New Zealand.
Furthermore, millions of dollars come in the form of remittances to Fiji from former Fiji citizens, contributing significantly to our economy. The majority of our migrant population live in these two countries.
The PM should know he is swimming against a tide of overwhelming opinion amongst Forum member nations who cherish and value Australia and New Zealand’s partnership.
Government should build bridges instead of destroying existing ones. This is the cornerstone of democracy and diplomacy.
Hon Dr Biman Prasad