Opening Remarks by Hon Faiyaz Koya at the Validation Workshop for Pacific Regional E-Commerce Strategy and Roadmap

Delivered by the Hon. Faiyaz Koya, Minister for Commerce., Trade, Tourism and Transport – Fiji and Chair of the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting

21 July 2021

 

Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Henry Puna,
Director, Programmes and Initiatives, Zarak Khan,
Representatives of Technical Agencies and Development Partners,
Distinguished presenters and facilitators,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I am delighted be here (virtually) today and to welcome you to the “Pacific Regional Workshop on E-Commerce”. Last week, I Chaired the Pacific ACP and Forum Trade Minister Meetings, and e-commerce was at the heart of our discussions.

As we discussed the adversities of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also underscored the opportunities that have arisen due to the massively accelerated use of ICT, e-commerce and digitalisation of processes. As Trade Ministers of the region, we are united in the decision that innovation is increasingly essential for the region’s recovery from the pandemic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In March 2020, much of the world went into lockdown, causing travel restrictions and forcing many businesses to shut down. Even as businesses reopened, there are restrictions, which enforce 2 metre social distancing, mandatory wearing of masks, and limits on number of customers, who can enter a premise at any point in time. We are future proofing our businesses, so they are ready for any uncertainty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It goes without saying that e-commerce is critical for international trade. It is transforming the way in which the world trades. Thus, digital uptake has enabled businesses to respond quickly to the extreme disruption and permitted them to foster new business designs and better position themselves for resilience.

However, the popularity of e-commerce is not a new story. The big players like Amazon, Alibaba and others have been rapidly expanding in the last few years. More importantly, the COVID-19 situation has accelerated the growth of this convenience movement for businesses of every size.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have been hit the hardest during this pandemic. However, embracing e-commerce at the onset of the pandemic helped some MSMEs pull through the crisis.

Fiji has been leveraging over two decades of investment in ICT infrastructure and its location as the hub for transportation routes within the Pacific. This complements our efforts of business reforms that have not only promoted competition amongst telecom operators, but created a conducive environment for e-commerce to grow. Fijian businesses and consumers that were able to “go digital” have helped mitigate further economic downturn.

But payment solutions for e-commerce remains a challenge with financial institutions. The MSMEs with limited capital are not able to afford onerous fees required by commercial banks. In Fiji, if a business went to the bank to set-up a payment portal, the banks will demand a security deposit of $20,000. This limitation in accessing e-payment solutions is a major factor that is not able to move us from cash payments.

Thus, in order to help MSMEs build greater resilience by accessing the e-commerce platform, the Fijian Government is providing a number of incentives, as announced during last week’s 2021-2022 National Budget.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Fijian Government in collaboration with the Reserve Bank of Fiji will assist MSMEs that sign up as a merchant to offer their products for sale online on Vodafone’s “Vitikart eCommerce Platform”. A sum of $1.2 million has been allocated to fund the costs associated with getting MSMEs onto the VitiKart platform that receives payment through internet payment gateways.

The Vitikart eCommerce platform is integrated with M-PAiSA mobile wallet, Visa and Mastercard payment gateways. This means that businesses signing up on Vitikart will not be required to make any investment in any online payment solutions to offer their products for sale online.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To further support e-commerce, the Fijian Government also announced a 200% tax deduction incentive for investments in development and upgrade of online shopping platforms.

These incentives will be further complemented by the tax incentives for companies that will land network cable and undertake associated infrastructure development in Fiji to bring faster internet speeds, at even lower costs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While Fijian businesses are now adopting e-commerce, the drive initially came from Government-to-Business and Government-to-Consumer services, through the Fijian Government’s flagship digital transformation programme, digitalFIJI. The aim of the programme is to increase public service delivery through online platforms, and Fiji has been increasing its scope over the years. In addition, the bizFiji portal offers online services to businesses in relation to starting a business and application of construction permits.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The absence of a Regional e-commerce strategy is a missed opportunity, as without clear policy and regulatory frameworks the potential for e-commerce will remain untapped in the Region.

In this regard, this Regional e-commerce initiative that was conceptualised in 2018, could not have been realised at a better time than now. The power of “digital trade language” has been realised during these uncertain times. Many businesses have benefitted on e-commerce platforms, while other sectors declined strongly, as in the case of tourism.

Digital connectivity and the digital economy have a huge potential and have played an important role in offsetting productivity losses we currently face. There is a greater need for the Pacific to foster digital infrastructure development and support digital economic integration in the Region, as we attempt to restore the Pacific economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Forum Trade Ministers have provided support to the Regional Strategy in principle, at the Meeting. The strategy is the culmination of years of committed, serious and competent work. It will help guide our collective action, as there are things that we can only do better through collective action, in the spirit of Pacific Regionalism.

To the participants of this Workshop – it is now your duty to deliberate upon and validate the various technical measures proposed by the Regional Strategy.

COVID-19 may have been the crisis of our generation, but it can also become an opportunity for our generation, if we make the right moves together. Despite the uncertainties of the “new normal”, one thing is certain – e-commerce is here to stay.

I would like to encourage you to freely engage and share your thoughts on the matter during the Workshop.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

-ENDS-

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