Analysis

Why NZ Must Include Fiji and Pacific In A Travel Bubble If Australia Is Not Ready

Fiji is COVID-19 free but opening the border will be meaningless unless our largest trading partners in the region lift their border restrictions too in a travel bubble with Fiji and other Pacific Islands,
15 Jun 2020 12:38
Why NZ Must Include Fiji and Pacific In A Travel Bubble If Australia Is Not Ready
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

New Zealand and Australia hold the key to kick starting the tourism industry and providing that essential lifeline for the Fijian economy.

Fiji is COVID-19 free but opening the border will be meaningless unless our largest trading partners in the region lift their border restrictions too in a travel bubble with Fiji and other Pacific Islands.

Fiji and New Zealand are now COVID-19 free. Other Pacific islands are also free of the virus. So why can’t we start a travel bubble between New Zealand and the other small Island states including Fiji, if NZ is still wary of Australia’s COVID-19 status?

Both New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her deputy and Minister for Foreign Affairs Winston Peters are positive about a Trans-Tasman bubble that includes the Pacific. But it won’t happen unless Australia has improved its status on the virus.

That position must have prompted Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s remarks in The Australian Financial Review.

He says Fiji’s success in eliminating the virus should “burst” the two-country bubble.

He says with no new cases in nearly two months, Fiji deserves better than second-class consideration in a regional travel arrangement.

He says this pandemic has left our tourism industry paralysed.

Exploring potential

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says in the interest of the thousands of Fijians who are now unemployed, Fiji is actively exploring all potential options, and is open to creative ideas – including a state-led resumption of travel between Australia and Fiji. He says if a fraction of the 10 million Australians who travel overseas each year came to Fiji in 2020, the local economy could be quickly revived.

He says Fiji is ready to welcome tourists back to the South Pacific. His statement indicates that Fiji is about to reopen its border.

“A travel bubble that includes Fiji alongside Australia and New Zealand would do far more good than any aid or assistance,” he says .

“While we’re incredibly grateful for the help of our larger regional neighbors, Fijians yearn to swim sustainably, not just be kept afloat.”

Our dependence on tourism cannot be over emphasised, particularly from Australia and New Zealand. They are our biggest sources. Between 2018 and 2019 370,830 Australian tourists visited Fiji while an average of 180,000 Kiwis visit Fiji every year. If 10 per cent come here initially after the borders reopen we are talking about more than 55,000 tourists in our hotels and resorts

It’s in Australia’s and New Zealand’s interests that our tourism industry gets back on it’s feet quickly.

Around 3000 Australians reside here and more than 70,000 Fijians live in Australia. We have strong bilateral ties and important trade and investment relations.

Trade partners

Australia is one of Fiji’s largest trade and investment partners. Two-way goods and services trade has been steadily increasing year-on-year, totaling more than $2.billion

From New Zealand’s perspective, Fiji is the largest Pacific Island trading partner, and the only country in our region to rank among New Zealand’s top 20 trading partners.

New Zealand is a major supplier of services to Fiji and also Fiji’s second largest tourist market, after Australia,

New Zealand and Fiji are committed to continuing to grow mutual business, trade and investment links, to support regional economic growth and integration.

Mr Peters recognises the importance of Fiji and the Pacific to New Zealand.

If he was to decide alone he would create a bubble between New Zealand and the Pacific .

He says: “We belong in the Pacific,” adding many Pacific economies are suffering due to lack of tourism revenue.

“We need to help out. If we don’t help out this way we’ll be helping out in aid. It makes more sense to keep their economies going or try to revive them as fast as possible.”

Pacific pathway

Mr Peters says he is conscious some Pacific Islands countries are keen to expand the concept of a trans-Tasman bubble.

“A safe travel zone with the Pacific could provide a welcome boost to economies in the region, which have been hit hard by COVID-19 as the result of border closures and supply chain disruption, even with very low case numbers,” Mr Peters says,

“It would also provide some Pacific Island nationals with a pathway to return home.

“We have to look at every country’s maritime and aviation security measures, as well as their medical preparedness in regards to COVID-19 – just as we are currently doing with Australia.”

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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