Post COVID-19 recovery is inclusive, green and digital- Forum Trade Chair Opens 2021 Ministerial

Forum Trade Ministers Meeting

Chairs Opening Statement- Hon. Hon. Faiyaz Siddiq Koya, Fiji

Minister for Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Tourism.

16 Jul, 2021

Honourable Deputy Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Fellow Honourable Ministers, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Regional Director of Asian Development Bank, Senior Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Deputy Director General, MSG Secretariat, Excellencies and Senior Trade Officials, Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I am delighted to Chair this year’s Forum Trade Ministers Meeting. It is rather unfortunate that I did not get the opportunity to welcome you all in person to Fiji, due to the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers,

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the largest and most abrupt disruption to economic activities globally. The impact has varied dramatically across different sectors of the economy. In particular, high-contact services, such as tourism have
suffered deeply, while those that facilitate non-contact activities, like ICT support or delivery of services, have been affected least severely.

Collective responses and regional solidarity are crucial in containing the economic impact of the pandemic, promoting the recovery and shaping the nature of future growth of the Region.

The timely response provided by Australia and New Zealand towards the Region’s recovery efforts, through the provision of vaccines, personal protective equipment and deployment of medical assistance teams, is commendable. To date, 60 percent of Fiji’s target population has received at least the first dose of vaccine and at least 12 percent of the target population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers, A proposal to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines and
therapeutics was tabled to the WTO in October last year. Fiji and Vanuatu have joined as sponsors of the proposal, which was first made by India and South Africa.

This is a massive opportunity to speed up and scale up the production of lifesaving vaccines worldwide by waiving the intellectual property barriers that prevent qualified manufacturers from joining the effort.

The World Bank estimates that the world economy is on path to an “unexceptionally strong” recovery. In 2021, the world economy will grow by 5.6 percent, which is the strongest post-recession pace in 80 years.

But this growth would come from primarily a handful of developed countries. And majority developing countries will take more years to recover the lost economy before registering growth over the 2019-level.

Access to COVID-19 vaccines has become a critical prerequisite for economic recovery. Unequal access to vaccines poses a significant risk to an already uneven and fragile global recovery. We, as a Region must support this cause as the World Bank Group also reports that countries vaccinating faster are also reporting faster economic recovery.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers, We need to transform the way we think about our economies and make policy choices today, so that our Region can transition to an inclusive and more resilient tomorrow.

We need to encourage investments in reskilling initiatives, in particular green and digital skills, in order to re-integrate our people back into the job market – especially our youth and women.

We need to rethink and rebuild our labour market strategies, so that they are more resilient, more inclusive and more productive. We have to look at our existing labour mobility schemes and expand its coverage to new industries and sectors to allow for Pacific workers to compete with workers from around the world. Another option could be to consider giving working holiday visas to the Pacific. We can also have certain arrangements in place, which facilitates access to visas and prepares for necessary tests.

This will incentivise employers to recruit workers from the Pacific.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers, Trade has been at the center of life for our economies and remains the lifeblood of our
Region today. However, there is a need to alter our trade landscape by raising productivity, boosting competitiveness and creating new opportunities for market access.

In addition to this, there is also a need to create economic recovery plans that have the potential to create a recovery that is both green and inclusive. Addressing such global issues has become even more important in order to enhance resilience against future shocks.

Since trade and environmental issues are inextricably intertwined, Fiji and New Zealand, alongside Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, have embarked on an initiative on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability. This Agreement is a first of
its kind, as it aims to use trade rules to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. We are encouraging all Pacific Island Countries to join this foresight initiative.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers, We are all acutely aware of COVID-19’s impact on enterprise digitalisation and e-
commerce adoption. The pandemic has accelerated the significant shifts in consumer behaviour and the future of retail. The world of e-commerce presents freshopportunities and is a phenomenon that we cannot stop.

Hence, there is a need to further strengthen our Region’s digital infrastructure. This includes incentivising investments in digital connectivity, computing capabilities, payments systems, and new and innovative business models. Businesses in the
Region must be able to better serve international markets as well.

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, many global supply chains for food and medicine were disrupted due to border closures and other export restrictions. Thus, a strong digital infrastructure must be complemented by robust supply chain capabilities, to ensure timely fulfilment of orders.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers, We have to ensure that our policies remain consistent and effective. It is critical that
our strategies enable our businesses to continue to operate with minimal disruptions.

This then becomes a key competitive advantage for us.

Let us continue to stay vigilant and proactively pursue new opportunities. This will allow us to resume our economic activities sustainably and start building our economies back as quickly as possible.

Excellencies and Honourable Ministers, with these words’, I look forward to fruitful discussions.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

 

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