Fiji has had few cases of Covid-19, but the country’s dependence on tourism means its economy is expected to shrink by 21.7% in 2020.
Despite this bleak economic outlook, Craig Strong, who became CEO of Investment Fiji in May, believes that island states’ experience in coping with cyclones and climate change make them uniquely resilient to adversity.
Q: What was it like starting as CEO of Investment Fiji at the height of the Covid-19 crisis?
A: To join at a time where it appears that the game was changing by the day makes it more exciting and obviously extremely challenging, nothing prepares you for a pandemic.
Here in the South Pacific, particularly in Fiji, we are fairly resilient people. Annually, we face and recover from cyclonic activity. We’ve had to deal head on with the effects of climate change, so we tend to take quite a pragmatic approach to any issues that can impact on economic growth.
Q: Do you have any stories about how experiencing cyclones helped prepare you for Covid-19?
A: During Cyclone Winston, I was running a shipping company here. As the dust was settling, different parts of the community [were] already mobilising. I was getting phone calls from non governmental organisations saying: “Can we borrow a container?” I was getting calls saying: “We've got some stuff coming in, can we borrow some trucks to pick them up from the airport?” So we can mobilise very, very quickly.
Q: What changes and adjustments do you want to bring to Investment Fiji’s strategy?
A: If you look at what Fijian brands have been successful in the global markets, they have been the very authentic, high-end Fijian experience.
In our textile industry, we have companies here such as Lyndhurst, which has the Kookai brand. In terms of the luxury jewelry space, J Hunter Pearls has got a very high-end equity. We have things like Pure Fiji in terms of cosmetics, we have Fiji Water – so we’ve got a number of really good stories to tell.
So it’s making sure that we are promoting into those markets [and] building on the elements of the brand, which has given us that point of difference.
Q: Given the decline in tourism, are you trying to promote investments in other industries or are you waiting to see if tourism recovers?
A: A lot of the work that I'm personally doing at the moment is looking at where there are stumbling blocks with current investment projects. So if it means that we just deal with this one issue, however small it may seem, but it may generate 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or 100 jobs, then we’ve done our job today.
One of the things that is hard for us sitting in this part of the world was that we are blessed with very decisive leadership. And we just look at how the pandemic is not being managed as effectively overseas and how that impacts on us. And it reminds us of the climate change issue: we have these things that are out of our control, which then impact on our country.
Q: How important is climate change and sustainable investment for Investment Fiji?
A: Oh, absolutely. One of the things about not only Fiji but in the Pacific as a whole, we are natural conservationists, which cascades across a lot of the agency to work in terms of how we grow our blue economy, how we grow our green economy, and so forth. For us, the target hasn't shifted off that.
Q: Do you have advice for IPAs in other island countries facing similar challenges?
A: Whatever we have to do, we have to do with excellence. There’s no room for making mistakes in a small market like Fiji. On the climate change issue, we need to make sure that we are continuing to promote the fact to some of the bigger industrial nations around the world that the actions that they take have a lasting impact on emerging markets. As a group of similar nations, we need to continue to ensure that our voice is heard.
Craig Strong is the CEO of Investment Fiji.
If you are a member of the economic development and investment promotion community and would like to be part of the next iteration of the fDi Diaries series, please reach out to fDi@ft.com.