Regional trade and economic meetings

The trade and economic officials and ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members met last week. The ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and opportunities for recovery were very much top of the agenda.

In their outcomes statement the Forum Economic Ministers stressed the importance of addressing debt and called on bilateral and multilateral creditors to look at where loans could be forgiven. They also welcomed the offer from New Zealand to support the Pacific Resilience Facility, as other potential donors are more reluctant to make commitments ahead of the intended pledging event.

The region’s Trade Ministers were at pains to stress the importance of vaccinations as the key to economic recovery in Pacific island countries.

They also adopted a regional kava strategy. Key to this is improving market access with Australia an important destination in that regard.

COVID round-up

The number of infections in Fiji is continuing to rise and the death toll has now exceeded 100. With a testing positivity rate of 26 per cent it seems that the upward trend will continue for some time. The government has said that there are sufficient vaccines in the country to allow for the target population to be fully immunised.

In Papua New Guinea, the Delta strain has been confirmed in at least one person currently isolated in a hospital in Port Moresby. Given that only around one per cent of the PNG population is vaccinated there are serious concerns about the impacts if there were to be any community transmission arising from that case.

New Zealand has provided sufficient vaccines to Tokelau for the entire adult population to be immunised. Tokelau can only be reached by sea. The vaccines were delivered by HMNZS Wellington using contactless delivery procedures.

Ongoing legal and political wrangling in Vanuatu and Samoa

In Vanuatu the Court of Appeal ruled that a previous Supreme Court decision should be overturned. The reasoning was that the judge was wrong to find that the seats of 19 MPs had been vacated. This question had not been asked of the Supreme Court at that time.

The MPs have now commenced proceedings to challenge the then Speaker’s determination that their seats were vacated.

In Samoa, the Court of Appeal has reserved its judgment in what could be the case to resolve an extended impasse after the elections in April. The judgment is expected to be handed down on August 2nd.

The Court is considering several issues. They include whether the impromptu swearing-in of the FAST party MPs on May 24th should now be considered valid given that Parliament has not convened despite having been ordered to do so by the Supreme Court.

Fiji budget

Fiji’s budget has been handed down by the Attorney-General and Minister for the Economy, Ayez Sayed-Khayoum. As the country’s economy continues to be ravaged by the impacts of COVID-19, there were numerous measures introduced to provide support to businesses and the citizenry more generally. A flagship announcement was an allocation of $FJ200 million in unemployment benefits to be paid in two lump sums to each eligible adult.

The government has made it clear that it plans to vaccinate itself out of the crisis. This comes as the number of cases continues to rise and the death toll approaches 100. A controversial aspect of the budget is the stipulation that certain social welfare measures will only be available to those who have been vaccinated.

The Fiji government is working toward an ambitious agenda that sees 80% of the population fully vaccinated by October 31st so that the country can welcome back visitors for the Christmas holidays.


AUTHOR

Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.