31 Aug 2005

Fiji prime minister to ask Australian prime minister to revise SPARTECA

2:20 pm on 31 August 2005

The Fiji prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, is to formally ask his Australian counterpart, John Howard, to provide better access to its markets for Pacific Island countries.

Mr Qarase is calling on Australia and New Zealand to revise the rules of origin under their SPARTECA trade agreement and reduce it from 50 to 35 percent.

This would allow Fiji to export a higher percentage of garments made elsewhere to Australia and New Zealand.

It follows Mr Qarase's publicly-voiced concerns that the current draft Pacific Plan shows little assistance for countries in the region to achieve economic growth.

The chief executive officer of the P.M.'s office, Jioji Kotobalavu, says greater access to Australia and New Zealand is critical given that the U.S. is terminating the quota it allows for garment exports and the E.U. is to begin to reduce its preferential prices for sugar.

Mr Kotobalavu says the garment industry, in particular, has already been badly affected.

"Many factories in Fiji have closed. Those that are surviving are now being reduced to four day working week. And, the people employed by these factories are working mothers and young people who have left school but who have no chances of going through to tertiary education. So, this is why the prime minister of Fiji is hoping that Australia and New Zealand would sympathetically look at this."

Mr Kotobalavu says Mr Qarase is writing to Mr Howard this week with the request to revise SPARTECA.