Seeing An Opportunity Helped Both Fiji And Gibson Freight

Way back in the 70’s Australia was a nation whose high cost manufacturing industries were protected by tariffs which, in these days of free trade agreements, seem ridiculously high. Jeans,
16 Jun 2018 11:00
Seeing An Opportunity Helped Both Fiji And Gibson Freight
From left: Former Foreign Affairs Minister Berenado Vunibobo, a guest and Owner of Gibson Freight Bill Gibson.

Way back in the 70’s Australia was a nation whose high cost manufacturing industries were protected by tariffs which, in these days of free trade agreements, seem ridiculously high.

Jeans, for example, attracted a tariff of A$5.00 per pair plus 45 per cent of their value.

This was to prevent the Australian market from being flooded with low cost garments from Asia and consequent manufacturing job losses.

Gibson Freight, a major Australian logistics services provider since 1978, handled freight and Customs related services for Australian garment importers.

In that capacity they were aware that tariff exemptions existed in favour of limited importations from developing nations.

Once such exception related to cotton shirts of Indian origin deemed to be handicrafts. One of Gibson Freight’s clients, Just Jeans, was an importer of such shirts to complement their high cost market leading Australian manufactured jeans.

Gibson Freight was able to apply provisions of the recently proclaimed Australian Government “Sparteca Trade Agreement”, to jeans manufactured in Fiji from Australian sourced denim.

Craig Kimberly, then owner of Just Jeans, was persuaded by Bill Gibson, owner of Gibson Freight, that sourcing jeans from Fiji for his 220 Australian stores could be viable. Chris Ogle and Alan Panambalama, suppliers of India sourced shirts to Just Jeans. Built a factory at Lautoka to manufacture jeans from Australian manufactured denim thereby qualifying for duty free entry into Australia under the Spartica Agreement. Bill was interested because he could see Fiji becoming a good freight market through the clothing industry growth in Australia.

Celebrations to mark the factory opening took place around the Mocambo’s pool with Craig Kimberly, Bill Gibson and a plane load of Australian guests flown in. Most prominent locals were from Veisesei Village as they had built the factory.

Their then chief Ratu Josefa IIoiloi was an especially enthusiastic participant.

Fijian song and dance performances, arranged by the “Mocambo”, kept quests entertained until around midnight after many, many encores.

It was a typical magnificent Fiji night, warm and starry.

Guests, especially those from Versisi, insisted that food, drink and entertainment continue. Professional performers, having departed exhausted, were replaced by factory owners Chris Ogle and Alan Panambalama singing duets including a memorable rendition of “Streets of London”.

It was quite a night and an auspicious beginning to jeans manufacture in Fiji.

Before any of this, Gibson Freight had built a substantial global air and sea freight forwarding, Customs brokerage and trucking enterprise in Australia.

One of their specialties, motor sport logistics, saw Gibson Freight providing such services to Formula One, Moto GP, World Superbikes, V8 Supercars and others.

This represented a rare entry by an Australian company into a high intensity, high profile global logistics market niche which they continue to occupy today.

Given a culture of “outside the square” enterprise it was natural progression for Bill Gibson to extend the logistics related services of his company to the Fiji market.

At that time, Chris Ogle and Alan Panambalama were Gibson Freight’s only Fiji account shipping denim in and Just Jeans garments out.

Gibson Freight Fiji initially focussed on servicing the rapidly expanding garment industry.

Australia was both the main source of raw material and main market hence two way trade flourished between fabric suppliers in Melbourne, and  Sydney to factories in Suva and Luatoka with the manufactured garments going  back to markets in those Australian cities.

This was later extended to fabric and other China sourced components being shipped through Gibson Cargo Services, the Asian arm of Gibson Freight.


Key supporters

Key initial and ongoing supporters of Gibson Freight included world class garment factories of Ramesh Solanki’s United Garments, Mark Halabe’s Mark One and NIlesh Jamnadas’ Danam.

These, and many other pioneers of the Fiji garment industry, became friends as well as clients of the Gibson Familly made up of David and Peter plus Kamal Reddy who has been with them since the beginning.

Establishing a business and investing in Fiji back in 1991 was not made easy or encouraged by the government as it is now.

Unlike the current ministry there were barriers to entry not easy to cross, the first being Fiji Trade and Investment Bureau (FTIB), who rejected Bill Gibson’s first self prepared application, then his second, prepared by Price Waterhouse Fiji partner Chris Jackman, father of stage and screen star Hugh Jackman.

Gorilla tactics were called for. Chris Ogle received encouragement from the then Minister for Trade, Berenado Vunibombo, when building his Lautoka garment factory. Through Chris Ogle an opportunity was created for Bill Gibson to put his case for the establishment of Gibson Freight Fiji Ltd direct to the Minister who was impressed but not immediately persuaded.

Bill Gibson could be regarded as an old school gentleman forming a good relationship with Mereoni, assistant to Minister Vunibombo, who advised him of the Minister’s incoming flight details when visiting Australia. Tactic was for Bill Gibson to wait outside the Customs hall for Minister Vunibombo to emerge only to be ambushed and engaged in yet another, ultimately successful, pitch for the establishment of Gibson Freight Fiji Ltd.

Following his departure from Government  and politics, the late Berenado Vunibombo served for many years as the much loved and respected Resident Director of Gibson Freight Fiji Ltd until his death in December 2015.

Fast forward until now where Gibson Freight is a major Australian based player in the world of Global Logistics including Fiji.

Fiji garment, resorts and tourism, marine and other industries each have Gibson Freight services specifically developed to make them more competitive in world markets.

For example, Fijian fast fashion brand “Kookai” is a world leader in design, manufacture and supply chain. Garments having a retail value in excess of FD$2 million are manufactured in their Suva factory each week. They are processed ready for retail sale and packed by destination Kookai store.

Gibson Freight operates a FD$2.5 million new facility adjacent to Kookai where incoming fabric and other components are received from factories in Australia, China and elsewhere via Gibson Freight forwarding services.

Finished garment consignments are processed for export through this facility for Saturday trucking to Gibson Freight Nadi Airport for Sunday uplift to Gibson Freight facilities at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane Airports.

Dedicated truck runs around all Australian Kookai stores Monday morning complete the process.

Made in Fiji up until Saturday evening, on the shelf at Kookai stores Monday morning. There is no better supply chain in Australia!!

Gibson Freight is currently building yet another FD$2.5 million facility between Nadi and Lautoka to better serve Fiji commerce and industry.

The best is yet to come for Fiji and for Gibson Freight according to Bill Gibson and his family who have got it right so far!!



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