Feature

Timor-Leste Mulling Suva Mission

Minister Soares said govt had plans to ‘intensify’ their relations with Pacific Island countries
02 Sep 2019 10:25
Timor-Leste Mulling Suva Mission
From left: Timor-Leste Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation media official Gregório Jong da Maia, Fiji Sun deputy managing editor Sheldon Chanel and Timor-Leste embassy political counsellor Domingos Savio at the Beach Garden Hotel in Dili, Timor Leste.

The Timor-Leste government is contemplating opening a diplomatic mission in Fiji as a gateway to further deepening ties with the wider Pacific region, says the country’s Foreign Minister Dionísio Babo Soares.

On Friday, the young nation celebrated the 20th anniversary of the popular referendum that won them independence from at times a brutal 24-year Indonesian occupation.

The occasion was also marked by the signing of a major maritime border deal with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which could unlock billions of dollars of offshore gas and oil revenue for the tiny nation.

Timor-Leste hopes the deal will underpin its future development aspirations, part of which includes establishing diplomatic missions in like-minded countries such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

In an interview with the Fiji Sun, Mr Soares said his government had plans to “intensify” their relations with Pacific Island countries, given their shared interests and challenges.

“I think Fiji is one of them. And since Fiji is the main gate to most of the countries in the Pacific we are pondering on having a diplomatic mission there in the future,” Mr Soares said.

“Timor Leste, although is located at the edge of Asia and the Pacific, I think we are now beginning to intensify our relations with our brothers and sisters in the Pacific.

“We are also part of the Pacific Islands Development Forum. There are so many things that we share (with Pacific Island Countries), particularly Fiji and Papua New Guinea, in terms of priorities for development where we emphasise agriculture, tourism, human development and health.”

The country of roughly 1.3 million people has made strong progress in development since independence in 2002, although there is still much room for improvement.

Timor-Leste’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stands at approximately US$2.5 billion (about FJ$5.4 billion) – roughly half of Fiji’s – and is projected to grow by 4.8 and 5.4 per cent in 2019 and 2020.

Its Gross Domestic Product per capita of $US2435.05 (about FJ$5346.30) is also projected to grow by 2.9 per cent and 3.5 per cent in 2019 and 2020, although poverty, at 41.8 per cent of the total population measured in 2014, remains high but is gradually decreasing.

The country’s gas and oil sector remains its primary source of revenue, raking in almost half a billion dollars in 2017 which was a decline from roughly $US4bn (about FJ$8.78bn) in 2014. It also receives foreign aid amounting to US$2.8bn (about FJ$6.14bn) a year.

According to Mr Soares, the Timor-Leste government is hoping revenue from the offshore gas and oil resources will allow them to re-prioitise their development plans which, so far, has mostly included large scale infrastructure work.

That’s where the Pacific can come in, he said.

“The first entrance will be Fiji. We’ve had very strong relations from the time when Fijian armed forces were part of the peacekeeping operations,” he said.

“There are so many things we can learn from each other since we are Island states and part of the same region.

“While our brothers and sisters from the smaller islands are also preoccupied with the level of sea rise and so on, we also have similar concerns because we are impacted by climate change.”

The minister added that agriculture, tourism development and ocean preservation would be the priority areas in deepening ties and co-operation with Fiji and the region.

Feedbacksheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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