Welcome to our special guest from the Pacific, Mr Shiu Raj, Director of the Economic Governance Program of the Pacific Islands Forum; our old friend China’s Special Envoy to the Pacific, Ambassador Du Qiwen; the Ambassadors of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand; Chargé d’Affaires from the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu. Congratulations to Vanuatu for your National Day, marking 35 years of independence. Vanuatu and Micronesia as well have suffered terrible natural disasters in recent times but are resilient nations. Welcome other distinguished guests all.
We are here to launch a book of trade statistics, but before I talk about trade statistics, as important as they are, I must say there is at least one more important thing than numbers. That is people and our people-to-people links. Without our people-to-people links across the oceans we would not have trade, investment, tourism, education, understanding and peace, all the things that the world needs more of in the 21st Century, to avoid the mistakes of the 20th.
When the President of China, Xi Jinping, visited Fiji at the end of 2014 and met with the heads of state and heads of government of eight Pacific Island Countries, those meetings symbolized an important set of people-to-people relationships.
Relationships between the people of the Pacific Islands and China go back many generations. The patterns of trade and movement of people and capital might be on a larger scale now than ever before, but the relationships are longstanding. In almost every island dotted across the Pacific Ocean, there are small Chinese communities, with Chinese retail shops and Chinese traders.
There is a mutual respect between these different cultures, between the great Chinese civilization and strong cultures of the Pacific Islands, made up of people from Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. While the people of the Pacific Islands are small in number, their rich, diverse and resilient cultures stand as a reminder to us all that we must protect what is unique and we must find win-win ways to build a common future that respects and strengthens the different cultures of the earth we share.
This is why it is so important that we have strong relationships, including strong economic cooperation, to support the continued resilience of the precious island paradises of the Pacific.
China is a major donor to the Pacific Islands, as are the developed country members of the Pacific Islands Forum represented here today, New Zealand and Australia. But aid is not enough.
For sustainable development, we need to build the export-capable and investment-ready business sectors in the Pacific Island Countries. China understands this. The growth of export-capable businesses and investment in China in the last three and a half decades has been the largest scale transformation of an economy in human history. China now has truly global firms ready to find opportunities in niches and in areas of underdevelopment the world over.
President Xi Jinping’s vision of a Maritime Silk Road that he outlined on his visit to Indonesia, which naturally extends to the Pacific Islands, is about integrating the economies of the region, building new value chains that will benefit every community and every business along the chain. With significant resources for investment, China can help smaller, under-developed countries to strengthen their internationally traded goods and services sectors.
China can play an important role in sustainable investment and building the trade between the Pacific Islands and the regional economy of the Asia Pacific.
The statistics that we launch today reveal both that this regional integration is well underway and also that there is much more potential.
This year, in 2015, the Pacific Island Countries will grow by an average of 9.9%, according the latest Mid-Year Review of the Asian Development Bank.
That is a number similar to the growth rates that we saw in China until recent times.
Now of course, there are some unusual factors that have led to this forecast, not least that this year will be the first full year of LNG exports from Papua New Guinea. At the same time as Papua New Guinea is becoming a major energy exporter, though, the prices for its copper and other mineral commodities are dropping on world markets. So you win some, you lose some.
There has also been an extraordinary growth in tourism to the Pacific Islands.
And why wouldn’t there be? Paradise is there to be experienced, fresh air, healthy, relaxing, tropical holidays away from the stress and speed of modern city life. The Pacific Islands are remote, but that’s what makes them special. They are home to welcoming, fascinating cultures and spectacular, unspoiled scenery. They are dream destinations for tourists who want to experience something special and something different.
Growth in Chinese tourism to the Pacific Island Countries increased by 151% in the first quarter of 2015, year on year since the first quarter of last year.
There are obviously strong opportunities for investment in tourism infrastructure and services across the region.
Beyond tourism, there are other good business opportunities because the resources of the Pacific Islands remain under-developed, including mining and energy, agriculture and fisheries processing, as well as aquaculture.
As our Trade Statistical Handbook that we are launching today reports, trade in goods between China and the Pacific Island Countries reached US$4.5 billion in 2014, comprising exports from China to the Pacific Island Countries of US$2.5 billion and exports from the Pacific Island Countries to China of US$2 billion.
Major commodities exported from the Pacific to China include mineral resources, timber and fish, but there is also a growing niche for unique foods, beverages and health products, from Fiji water and PNG coffee to Samoan noni juice, a traditional tonic.
I have only recently taken up my post here in Beijing and I am delighted to see some the products of the Pacific for sale on the supermarket shelves and online, but I hope we can see much more in time.
We need more direct air links and we need more investment in sustainable projects to value add and to create jobs and opportunities in the Pacific Islands.
We here at Pacific Trade and Invest are here to work with you to achieve just that, on behalf of the fourteen Pacific Island Countries of the Pacific Islands Forum.