Zarak Khan is Fiji’s Consul General and Trade Commissioner at the Fiji Consulate and Trade Commission in Sydney. He tells Business Advantage PNG that the Pacific country is looking to diversify its industry base.
BAPNG: Where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth in the Fiji economy?
Zarak Khan: We see a lot of opportunities in the services area, particularly ICT (information and communications technology). We also see opportunities in business services, transportation and financial services.
A lot of the economies in the Pacific, including PNG, are transitioning and transforming. We were always quite dependent on tourism, which is the mainstay of our economy. But, increasingly, we are looking at other services. If you look at ICT in particular, the sector employs about 3000 to 4000 people in Fiji, which is quite phenomenal when compared with the other Pacific countries.
BAPNG: Why is ICT an advantage for Fiji?
Zarak Khan: Fiji has a number of advantages. Our greatest strength, leveraging off our strong background in the hospitality sector, is our people, who are naturally personable, friendly, effusive and who relate very well to international clients. That goes into ICT nicely.
‘The Fiji government’s objective is to grow Fiji’s tourism sector into a AUD$2.2 billion (K5.31 billion) industry by 2020’
Our people also have a neutral accent and Fiji has a time zone advantage when it comes to competing nations in Asia and elsewhere. We also are strategically located, as the ‘hub of the Pacific’: only about four hours’ flight from Australia and three hours from New Zealand.
BAPNG: What other industry sectors are looking strong?
Zarak Khan: In tourism, we have got a lot of investments coming online in 2017. Just this month, we have two big projects starting to take in guests.
The first one is the Kokomo Island Resort, owned by Australian billionaire Lang Walker: an approximately $200 million project.
The second one is the Marriott Hotel opening in Momi Bay in April. That is about 250 rooms. We also have a number of big hotels opening up in the next year or two.
The Fiji government’s objective is to grow Fiji’s tourism sector into a AUD$2.2 billion (K5.31 billion) industry by 2020, which will create tremendous opportunities for investors.
BAPNG: What about the manufacturing sector?
Zarak Khan: We are looking to grow our presence in the global value chain; areas where Australian companies are outsourcing their operations.
They are saying: ‘Hang on, Fiji has very affordable wages and it is just on our doorstep. They have good international standards in terms of labour practices, world-class connectivity and infrastructure, in addition to being a relatively low-cost location for doing business. So, why not consider Fiji?’
‘Australia has very stringent biosecurity requirements.’
It doesn’t have to be the large-scale manufacturing; Fiji can also be a good location for the manufacturing of niche ‘high value, low volume’ products that we are quite good at. We have companies that can turn around production from the design and manufacturing phase to having the product in Australian retail outlets within a matter of two weeks, which is remarkable.
BAPNG: What are your objectives?
Zarak Khan: If you look at the trade and investment data, you will see that Australian exports to Fiji have grown year-on-year by 26.3 per cent. By contrast, exports from Fiji to Australia in 2015/16 grew only by 7.4 per cent. Two products make up 72 per cent of Fiji’s exports to Australia: gold and textiles. So, we have a huge risk exposure if something should happen to those two industries. The job is to diversify the export base that we have.
Australia has very stringent biosecurity requirements; at the moment, a maximum of three products are allowed. We would like Australia to prioritise the processing of biosecurity applications from the Pacific, particularly for countries like Fiji, where we have a strong background in exporting fresh and frozen agricultural produce. We serve the New Zealand market well and see no reason why we cannot replicate the same success in Australia.
Australia was the number one source market for Foreign Direct Investment in Fiji for a number of years, but has been overtaken by China. My goal is to increase the visibility and presence of the Fijian brand as a business destination for Australian investors.
Zarak Khan will be a guest speaker at the Pacific Islands Investment Seminar in Sydney on 8 September 2017. The seminar is being held in conjunction with the 2017 Business Advantage Papua New Guinea Investment Conference.