Q: Is an approach based on the development of the 'blue economy' feasible for Fiji?

A: Fiji is a small island state, but we are very big in terms of ocean. We can call ourselves the largest ocean nation in the world. We have got more water around us than land. We believe we can capitalise on the ocean when it comes to developing our economy by building up our capacity to deal with the ocean. Over the years, there has been more discussion over how growth can take place on the land, but there was very little focus on the ocean.

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But whatever we do on the land gets swept out into the ocean. Ultimately, it is the ocean that suffers, but in the ocean we have many marine resources we depend on. From our perspective, we believe that if we can control waste management from land-based sources into the ocean, we will be able to develop our marine resources in a much better way. We can capitalise on it and we can grow our economy – there is a lot of potential there.

Q: How are you engaging with countries that are the main sources of the pollution that compromises the ocean surrounding Fiji?

A: We have already teamed up with European countries such as Sweden for a high-level UN conference that was held in 2017 as part of  World Oceans Day. The Asian Development Bank is also focusing on ocean health. The message is going out, and there is a realisation that we need to look at the ocean as a part of our environment that needs protection. [These bodies] put aside $5bn for ocean health, looking at four different areas to improve the ocean we have globally.

First, we need to develop businesses around the ocean, we have to look at the many economic opportunities that exist around the ocean. Second, we need to ensure that land-based pollution doesn’t enter the oceans. A third area requires that any coastal development doesn’t look at the ocean as something that fixes itself. A fourth and final area is the restoration component of the programme.

Q: The government of Fiji is also reforming the country’s business environment to attract more investment. What should we expect in that direction?

A: The economy of Fiji has been doing extremely well for the past 10 years despite the financial crisis and the major cyclones. Tourism makes up about 38% of our GDP, whereas private investment makes up only 15%. We want to increase that further. In order to do that, we need more FDI, and for that we need the best enabling environment. In that context, we would like to develop special economic zones with a plug-and-play mechanism where the investor can come in and start a business.

The focus of these zones would be more on manufacturing, which at the moment accounts for about 15% of GDP. We are looking at the garment industry, at water bottling, cosmetics: these are all opportunities to develop our manufacturing sector. At the same time, we are looking at making our foreign investment law more flexible to attract knowledge-based industries such as BPO. We do realise that one important area for us to work on is capacity building – we need to upscale our workers, and we have various universities in the country that are assisting us in developing the right minds and hands for the jobs of the future.