It has been announced that Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully travelled to Fiji on 14 February to chair a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG).
The Minister states that the MCG is the Pacific’s primary vehicle for engaging with Fiji on elections progress.
It will meet with a range of government and non-government representatives to get a broad picture of recent developments in Fiji.
New Zealand along with Australia and the European Union, is providing technical and financial assistance for the upcoming elections and is considering other ways to assist Fiji’s return to democracy.
The Minister states that New Zealand has progressively eased sanctions as Fiji moves closer to credible elections. This has included lifting all sanctions on sporting contacts. The sanctions will be reviewed further as progress is made toward free and fair elections.
The MCG is made up of Ministers from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
PEN is of a view that a change of direction of New Zealand’s attitude to Fiji is overdue. The main beneficiaries of the sanctions are countries that have no sanctions of Fiji such as Malaysia and China. This comes at a cost of expanded trade opportunities for New Zealand exporters to Fiji.
The major question is what is likely to happen if the September Fiji elections return or do not return the incumbent Bainimarma Government to power.
PEN considers that the time has come to start a bridge building programme where New Zealand exporters can visit Fiji with Government endorsement to re-establish and strengthen trade links with Fiji importers.
Further delay is not in New Zealand’s interests as it counters the Government’s Business Growth Agenda. One of the Agenda’s aims is to increase exports from 30 to 40% of GDP by 2025.
PEN asks, how can the continuation of the Fiji sanctions help this aim?