Analysis

Ratu Inoke Kubuabola Excellent Choice For Secretary-General Of PIF

The seasoned diplomat and former Minister for Foreign Affairs has the right credentials for this high profile job.
09 Aug 2020 15:34
Ratu Inoke Kubuabola Excellent Choice For Secretary-General Of PIF
Fiji’s candidate for Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

The decision to nominate Ratu Inoke Kubuabola as Fiji’s candidate for Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is excellent.

The seasoned diplomat and former Minister for Foreign Affairs has the right credentials for this high profile job.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama says it is a decision that the Fijian Government has undertaken after careful consideration of the complex regional environment and the need for a strong and decisive leadership at PIF at this time.

He says COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented challenges to our region and it will be a test of leadership at all levels.

It is in addition to our battle on the climate change front.

But even before COVID-19, regionalism had faced geopolitical challenges in relation to how PIF members dealt with key development partners and the influence it had on regional architecture.

Domestic needs took precedence over regional issues directly impacting regional solidarity.

From Fiji’s perspective, one outstanding issue that threatens regional unity is the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus. Fiji did not sign it when it was launched in Tonga in 2017, saying it was not invited to the event.

The fact was that Fiji had opposed it because it felt the trade agreement favoured Australia and New Zealand more than Pacific Island countries. Fiji and Papua New Guinea did not sign.

Negotiations had been going on for eight years prior to the Nuku’alofa signing.

PACER plus replaced SPARTECA, the South Pacific Area Regional Trade and Economic Agreement, which provided Pacific Islands with duty and quota-free access to Australia and NZ.

PACER Plus maintains the market access but in return Pacific Island countries are to reduce import tariffs over time and to liberalise incoming service trade and investment. Long term it would exacerbate the already burgeoning trade imbalance between the development partners and PIF members.

New Zealand sees the Fijian economy as among “the most advanced and diversified in the Pacific. It recognises that Fiji is its largest Pacific Island trading partner and the only country in the region to rank among its top 20 trading partners”.

The 2018 trade statistics showed that the two-way trade between the two countries was valued at NZ$1.17 billion (FJ$1.64m).

NZ exported $503 million of goods and products to Fiji.

But it imported only NZ$64 million (FJ$84.9m) of Fijian goods and products.

Australia is one of Fiji’s largest trading and investment partners.

Two-way trade has been steadily increasing totalling $2.4 billion in 2018. Australia is a major source of investment for Fiji valued at about $1.34 billion in 2018. Fiji’s investment in Australia was valued at $346 million for the same year.

So the trade imbalance is going to be addressed in on-going bilateral talks.

Ratu Inoke is no doubt fully aware of the situation and would be in a position to help bring to a close this long running PACER Plus saga at a time when relations are much better and stronger with the two countries.

He is well known in the region and widely respected.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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