By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with VC Cho Kyung-hee, Editor Kim Hyung-dae, Reporters Jin-seon, Da-som
Ambassador Peniana Lalabalavu of the Republic of Fiji in Seoul said, “Fiji and Korea share modest trade relations with trade in goods making up most of the trade element of Fiji-Korea’s trade relations, Fiji importing cars and electronic goods from Korea.”
Speaking at a recent interview with The Korea Post media, owing and managing 3 English and 2 Korean news publication business, Ambassador Lalabalavu said, “In this regard, the Trade and Tourism Promotion Project would greatly add to the promotional effort of Fiji and this is one of the major projects for formal economic cooperation between Fiji and Korea as well as the Pacific.”
Ambassador Lalabalavu discussed a wide range of topics at the interview which included an introduction of the Head of Government of Fiji, bilateral economic cooperation and tourist attractions of Fiji.
Details of the interview follow:
Question: What is the view of Your Head of Government concerning President Moon Jae-in? Does your country have any plan to meet with President Moon Jae-in in the near future?
Answer: At the outset, Mr. Chairman, I would like to extend my gratitude to The Korea Post for this interview and opportunity to share with the Korean people about my country – the Republic of the Fiji Islands. As you are aware, the Republic of Fiji, and the Republic of Korea (ROK), share very long-standing bilateral relations. Fiji and Korea formalized diplomatic relations on 30 January 1971, following Fiji’s independence on 10 October 1970 from Great Britain. The Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Suva, Fiji, was established in 1980. Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) office in Suva was established in 1990, servicing twelve (12) Pacific Islands Countries (PICs). This makes Korea one of independent Fiji’s earliest bilateral partners. On 19 July 2012, Fiji established the Embassy of the Republic of Fiji in Korea, paving the way for strengthening investment and partnership opportunities for the Korean business community here.
Fiji and Korea have had close relationship for more than four decades. During this period Fiji has greatly benefited from technical and developmental assistance provided by the government of the Republic of Korea. Fiji continues to be committed to ensuring that transparency, stability and integrity form the foundations of our economic development. This instills confidence in those looking to conduct business in Fiji.
A high-level visit to Fiji from Korea would further bolster our ongoing trade and tourism promotion which will surely strengthen the close friendly relations between the two countries and our people.
Q: We have not had an honor of introducing Your Excellency. Please introduce yourself to our readers, Koreans and international readerships, who we cover with the above-mentioned five media outlets, 3 in English, 2 in Korea.
A: It is my privilege to be able to interact with the Korean readers through this interview and share with you some of my experiences that precedes my arrival to your beautiful country in my capacity as Fiji’s Ambassador to Korea in September 2018. I presented my credentials to His Excellency Moon Jae-In, President of the Republic of Korea at the Blue House on 26 December 2018. Since then, I have been on a tour of duty and outreach program to meet and pay my courtesies to various Government Ministries, agencies, business, International Organizations, foundations and other non-profit groups, and other partners.
Prior to my commissioning as Ambassador, I served in the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji and have been there for eight years. I served in Government for 32 years and these have been mainly in the Central Agencies namely, the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of National Planning and the Office of the Prime Minister.
Twenty-one of these years were at the Public Service Commission when the first Civil Service Reform Programs and agenda were being introduced into the Fiji Public Service and I played a key role in steering a number of reform programs.
One of the highlights of my career was my being appointed as Chief Coordinator of the COP 23 Presidency Secretariat wherein I assisted the Executive Director in the coordination and preparation of the Prime Minister of Fiji’s role and the Fiji national team in the 23rd Conference of Climate Change in Bonn, Germany in 2017. This role included interaction and coordination with the UNFCCC and the Government of Germany including a good number of countries around the world who contributed towards the Presidency climate change activities given the smallness of Fiji as a nation and taking on a big role in the Global arena.
Q: Please fully introduce the Head of Government of your country, and also the First Family. President Moon Jae-in now wishing to substantially increase his cooperation with the Heads of Governments of the world, full details of your Head of Government would be of great service to the leaders of the Korea Government.
A: Fiji is a parliamentary democracy. Fiji holds elections every four (4) years and the current Government was re-elected in November in the 2018 General Elections.The Head of Government of the Republic of Fiji is the Honorable Josaia V. Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji. He is the Head of the Executive branch. He also holds the portfolio of the Honorable Minister for iTaukei Affairs and Sugar Industry of the Republic of Fiji. Previously, he also served as the Honorable Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Fiji.
Under the leadership of Honorable Prime Minister Bainimarama, Fiji has risen to global prominence in the international arena through the election of H.E. Ambassador Peter Thomson, Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (PRUN) as the President of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2016, followed by the Oceans Conference which Fiji co-hosted with Sweden in 2017, and then followed by the Prime Minister’s appointment as President of COP 23 held in Bonn, Germany from 2017-2018.
Fiji’s Presidency of COP 23 was applauded for its innovative “Talanoa Dialogue” which presented an open space for dialogue on critical issues regarding Climate Change and more importantly wherein countries, cities, businesses, civil society, faith-based organizations, indigenous communities, youth groups and others can share their ideas and experiences and learn from each other. The Honorable Prime Minister has been one of the leading global voices calling on the international community to commit to more ambitious targets to curb the carbon emissions that are warming our planet. Together with other leaders of the Pacific, he is committed to drawing global attention to the impact climate change has brought on vulnerable communities, including Pacific Islanders and the residents of other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and low-lying areas of the world.
His leadership of COP 23 encouraged partnerships amongst civil societies, Governments’ sub-national jurisdictions and strengthened partnerships and synergies between stakeholders who were committed to climate action.
Last year, Fiji won its bid for a seat in the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the term 2018-2020 in the Asia-Pacific regional grouping. It secured 187 votes – the second highest number of votes to secure its seat at the Council. From 1 January 2019, it was also appointed Vice-President (VP) of the HRC Bureau and will be represented by H.E. Ambassador Nazhat Shameem, Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other Organisations in Geneva (PRUNOG). Fiji is the first Pacific Small Island Developing Country (PSID) to be elected to the HRC as well as to serve as the VP of the HRC Bureau.
Fiji’s main industries:
Agriculture being the mainstay of Fiji’s economy, contributes around 28% to total employment in the formal sector and indirectly employing many more. This sector which was once a major stronghold of Fiji's economy is the third largest now, contributing $451 million (9%) annually to the nations GDP. Sugarcane which used to dominate the sector now only contributes (0.9%) and has been surpassed by other crops, horticulture, and livestock production and subsistence sector. Potential commodities for value added processing include in the processing for papaya, tomatoes, pineapple, coconut, duruka, mango, chillies, banana, cassava, taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, ginger, cocoa and dairy.
The fisheries industry is one of the prominent industries of Fiji. Fiji exports frozen and fresh chilled and loins of Tuna, reef fish, beach-de-mer, and so forth to the US, Japan, Australia, Canada, European Union markets and New Zealand which serve as major markets.
One of the most thriving sectors within Fiji's growing economy is manufacturing. This includes the manufacture of textiles, garments, footwear, sugar, tobacco, food processing, beverages (including mineral water) and wood based industries. The sector employs approximately 26,000 workers and is one of the nation’s growing sectors.
The Tourism industry has become Fiji's largest source of foreign exchange in comparison to other industries such as sugar, fisheries, garments, forestry and even remittance receipts. The sector is mainly private sector driven and has grown substantially over the past few decades. Tourism contributes approximately 17.0 percent to GDP and provides direct and indirect employment to around 40,000 people.
Q:What is the major schedule of economic cooperation between Korea and your country this year and for the near future? Please elaborate.
A: Fiji and Korea share modest trade relations with trade in goods making up most of the trade element of Fiji-Korea’s trade relations. Fiji imports cars – Kia and Hyundai and electronic goods including Samsung phones to Fiji.
In this regard, the Trade and Tourism Promotion Project would greatly add to the promotional effort of Fiji. This project is one of the major projects for formal economic cooperation between Fiji and Korea as well as the Pacific. The major stakeholders who will be involved in the promotional project include Korea Importers Association and the South Pacific Tourism Organization representative in Korea.
Fiji is privileged to have Korean Air providing three weekly direct flights to Fiji from Incheon International Airport since 2005. Korean visitors are exempt from visa requirements when entering Fiji. In the last five years, the number of travellers from Korea has been steadily increasing annually. There is potential for the development of a Korean owned hotel and it is an area that the Embassy would like to promote with major Korean investors.
There is a vast scope for investment in the education area. As an English-speaking country, Fiji provides a wide scope for investment in the education business. Fiji also offers potential for Korean students and other Asian students as a study abroad destination where they can not only learn English but also practice English by using it in daily life to communicate with the local Fijians. In this regard, the Mission has approached Korean universities for cooperation for student exchange so that Korean students can also have the opportunity to experience the natural and pristine environment of Fiji while pursuing their education in a foreign English speaking environment. At the same time, whilst Fijian students studying in Korea experience a new environment with its dynamic culture, they will also learn the rapid modernization, scientific advancement and economic development progress that Korea has made as a developed country.
Q: What are the major areas of economic cooperation between your country and Korea? Please elaborate.
A: Fiji exports Fiji Water, raw sugar, non-fillet frozen fish, scrap metal to Korea among other commodities. Korean companies are also venturing into the renewable energy sector in Fiji. Import commodities include iron, explosives ammunition, copper wire, cars, semi-finished products and other commodities. There are further incentives for trade for foreign investors in Fiji in the sector areas involving agriculture, audio Visual, fisheries, forestry, information communication technology (ICT), manufacturing, energy, health, mining & groundwater profile and tourism.
There is further scope for economic cooperation with Korea in agriculture, rural development, renewable energy, health and the infrastructure sectors. “Fiji has many exciting investment and partnership opportunities and offers a number of attractive incentives for investment for Koreans. Our geographical location in the South-pacific, coupled with modern infrastructure, telecommunications and financial services makes Fiji a natural hub for investment. Fiji is a developing market in all of these sectors and is actively seeking investment and knowledge transfer.
Q: What is the present volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: Further outlook for Fiji-Korea economic cooperation remains positive as we hope to actively engage with the Korea Importers Association (KOIMA) and our Korean representative of the South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO) to promote trade and investment and tourism opportunities respectively for Fiji and the Pacific. This will be through our formal engagement with the Korean Government under the Republic of Korea-Pacific Islands Trade and Tourism Promotion Project which is a subsidiary project of the on-going Republic of Korea-Pacific Islands Cooperation (ROK-PICs Cooperation).
For investment, Fiji provides a doorway for Korean investors into the Pacific, in view of Fiji being one of the leading countries and Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) in the region which has achieved a comparatively high-level of development, economic growth, infrastructure, transportation system for inter-island shipping, and other facilities. This provides an investment friendly and business-conducive environment with neighbouring Pacific Island Countries (PICs) as well as Australia and New Zealand. Fiji also provides a well-educated, young and skilled human resource base to facilitate a wide range of economic and investment activities and workforce that can be employed for labour mobility schemes in other parts of the world.
Labour mobility is also an area that can be explored between Fiji and Korea as Fiji offers a young, vibrant and steady human resource that is able to communicate in English as well as work in diverse settings.
Q: What are your competitive products and or services attractive to Korea and what Korea products and services that your country might wish to import from us?
A: Prominent Fiji Products in Korea include Fiji Water, Fiji Cane and Pure Fiji (Cosmetics products) which are being retailed at leading Korean outlets. Fiji Water is being retailed at all Starbucks and leading department stores. Fiji cane can also be purchased at Shinsegae Department Stores around Korea. On the other hand, the Pure Fiji cosmetics range has found its way in the Korean market through Shinsegae Department make-up retail outlets called “Chicor”. Fiji Water has gained further prominence as it has penetrated Hollywood and is the preferred brand of water by Hollywood celebrities as well as being preferred by major international hotel groups. Similarly, Pure Fiji is extremely popular with tourists in Fiji as preferred by major international hotel groups for their spa service. Samsung phones and Korean electronic products such as tablets are popular particularly with youths.
Q: Who are Korean companies actively contributing to the economic development and growth of your country, especially the small-medium Korean companies? Please elaborate, introducing several exemplary ones-other than the ubiquitously known Jaebeol conglomerates who are already widely known.
A: There is a prominent investor from Daegu, known as GIMCO Company which has established a local company in Nadi, Fiji and was inaugurated in July 2017. Known as the Nabou Green Energy Limited, it is Fiji’s first major Independent Power Producer (IPP) comprising four key stakeholders, namely GIMCO, GS Power, Mirae Asset Daewoo and Tropik Fiji Ltd. The Nabou Green Energy Ltd operates a 12MW biomass plant supplying electricity to the Energy Fiji Limited (EFL), formerly known as the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for 25 years. The company invested USD 48 million for the project and employs close to 100 employees.
In terms of the background of the investment, the construction of the biomass plant began in April 2015, however initial discussions with GIMCO to invest in the energy sector began in 2012. The actual construction lasted 28 months and was successfully completed in July 2017. With the successful completion of the plant, Nabou Green Energy Limited started injecting electricity into the Fiji Electricity Grid through biomass use. The unique feature of this plant is its ability to use the widely available, fast growing, energy dense Gliricidia Sepium (Hindi-Sirsa; Fijian-Banicagi) as a feedstock for the boiler. Wood residues from sawmills and logging industries will also be used. The plant also utilises African Tulips which has been classified as an invasive species by the Department of Forestry. African Tulips (Hindi-Lal Munia; Fijian-Pasi) are known to grow quickly and displace native vegetation and invade natural ecosystems. Using African Tulips as a feedstock will assist Fiji in its eradication efforts.
Q: What are the attractive tourism destinations of your country? Korean business leaders seek rest and recuperation and tourist destinations.
A: Fiji is in the heart of the South Pacific. It is an archipelago of over 300 magnificent islands. Blessed with an abundance of exotic flora and fauna, white sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees, pristine oceans and waterways wrapped up with an abundance of stunning resorts and a coastline that stretches approximately 1,129 kilometers, Fiji offers some of the world’s last remaining natural environments and best holiday destinations. Each year Fiji attracts well over 800,000 visitors, mainly from Australia, New Zealand, the US, China, Japan and Europe. In 2018, Fiji attracted 870,309 visitors, roughly the size of its own population, mainly for holiday and business purposes.
Fiji has several prominent international hotels and resorts lucrative 5 star resorts including the Marriot, Hilton, Intercontinental, Sheraton, Westin and so forth, as well as exotic villas on Denarau Island and the Mamanuca Group of Fiji and the Yasawas in the Western Division off the mainland, multimillion dollar resort in Laucala Island on the third largest island of Fiji, in Taveuni. Fiji also has exclusive private island resorts like the Wakaya Island Club and Spa, Matangi Private Island Resort, Laucala Island Resort and so forth.
Q: Who is your Korean Honorary Consul or Consul General? How is he contributing to furthering the bilateral cooperation?
A: Fiji has three (3) Hononary Consuls in Korea. Mr. Chang Soon-Heung is the Honorary Consul General for the Seoul area. Mr. Song Yong-Hee is the Honorary Consul (HC) for Daegu while Mr. Yeom Young-Ho is the Honorary Consul for Busan area. The HCs represent the Embassy in trade and tourism promotional events that take place in these areas. Additionally, the HCs’ also occasionally assist in the welfare of Fijian citizens in their respective areas.
Q: Who are the Korean figures in your country and or in Korea, who are representatively friendly with your country? Please introduce such Koreans adequately as other Korean leaders would wish to follow their suit.
A: Mr. Sang Sun Lee, fondly known as Chairman Lee, is Chairman of GIMCO company which has established the Nabou Green Energy Limited and is investing in the renewable energy sector in Fiji. He is a Korean businessman based in Daegu.
Q: Please add whatever other details that we might have left out from the questionnaire.
A: Fiji has a rich culture and heritage as well as rich sea-faring and maritime history, sharing close ties to the oceans and seas. Likewise, Korea also has a rich culture and heritage and preserves both intangible and tangible culture and history. Fiji would like to maximize on its presence in Korea by learning preservation methods of intangible and tangible culture and heritage to ensure that our rich history and the wisdom of our islands which have been passed down orally by our ancestors remains intact and can be preserved for the coming generations. In this regard, we hope to pursue further collaboration with our partners both new and existing to bolster efforts that will ensure the preservation and conservation of the rich heritage and legacy of our ancestors.
In our contemporary history, Fiji has become renowned for its passion and formidable sportsmanship of rugby – Fiji’s national sport. In the last three decades, Fiji has not only gained prominence for dominating rugby sevens at the world stage but also has several prestigious world titles to its acclaim. Most prominently, Fiji was the Olympic Gold medalist for Seven’s Rugby at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil. This was Fiji’s first Olympic gold medal for a sport that is not only loved by the people of Fiji but also by other Pacific Islanders and world over. Today, rugby is a very well developed sport with Fiji retaining both men’s and women’s national teams. It is played at club, district and provincial level and actively introduced in primary schools. Every year, Fiji exports rugby players who play club rugby in other countries such as New Zealand, Australia, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and so forth. Revenue generated from remittances through this labour mobility of Fijian rugby players has become a major source of revenue for Fiji. In the near future, Fiji hopes to partner and be able to explore rugby-related labour mobility schemes with Korea. In addition, Fiji as the hub of the Pacific has also hosted several sports games for the Pacific. It will be the venue for five matches of the 2019 Pacific Nations Cup rugby tournament in August 2019. It has been the venue for South Pacific Games in 1963, 1979, and 2003. It boasts regional training centers such as the International Tennis Federation's Regional Training Centre in Suva, Fiji which is the home to the best young and talented tennis players from the Pacific Island Nations.
Another area where Fiji has gained wide acclaim is in the area of its long-standing contribution to peacekeeping. The “blue helmets” as we refer to our peacekeepers have served in Angola, Bosnia & Herzegovinia, Cambodia, Croatia, Dafur, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia, Sinai, Namibia, Solomon Islands, Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, Southern Sudan and Timor-Leste. Not only has this translated in goodwill for Fiji but today peace-keeping is also a major source of revenue for Fiji. Fiji has a proud history of contributing towards world peace since independence in 1970. As some of our readers are aware, the Pacific means peace. We in the Pacific therefore identify very closely with peace and the essence of what constitutes a peaceful environment. Fiji is a diverse country with many different races and ethnicities of people living alongside each other. This has been the case for hundreds of years now. Our shores are renowned for its tranquility. Our people are known for their friendliness and hospitality.
I would like to encourage all the readers to visit Fiji and the Pacific at least once in their lifetime to experience the warmth of our shores and friendliness of our people. Fiji is truly blessed with a very pristine ocean, abundance of food and resources and a clean environment that is ranked alongside some of the best holiday destinations in the world. I recommend everyone to visit “Fiji – where happiness finds you”.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between Korea and Fiji in 1971, our two countries have developed friendly relations and cooperated closely in the global arena, such as the United Nations. In its effort to contribute to sustainable development and climate change adaptation of the Pacific Island Countries, the Republic of Korea has initiated Korea-Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers' Meeting and Senior Officials Meeting since 2011.
Bilateral trade volume has grown by more than four times over the last decade. It is also encouraging that more and more Fijian firms and consumers show interest in Korean products, especially cars and electronics. Despite the geographical distance between the two countries, Korea and Fiji also share common cultural values, such as respect for elders and strong family ties. On this basis, I believe that the relationship between the two countries will be further strengthened and deepened.
I hope you find this website useful for you to better understand Korea and its relationship with Fiji as well as the accredited nations. Suggestions you might have for improvement of the website are most welcome.