November 23, 2012

Fiji's diplomatic standing on the rise

Updated 23 November 2012, 11:38 AEST

Fiji's been welcomed back to the fold at the ACP, the group representing countries from Africa, the Carribean and the Pacific.

One of the world's more important "South-South" groups, it fosters trade and solidarity between developing countries.

It's approach in offering Fiji a seat at the table contrasts sharply with the attitude of Australia and New Zealand who continue to keep their distance.

Dr Stephen Ratuva the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand explains the significance of what is a boost to Fiji's international standing.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr Stephen Ratuva from the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand

RATUVA: I mean Fiji's always been of ACP, the bigger ACP framework, but recently, it was not part of the ACP Pacific process fundamentally because of the link with the forum, although these are two different legal entities. But I think the readmission of Fiji into the Pacific ACP is probably the first step towards being accepted into the regional organisation, into, well not so much the forum, because I think the Forum and the Commonwealth Secretariat, a suspension will be there for sometime, perhaps until after the election, because the ACP Pacific fundamentally economic in terms of trade with the European Union having Fiji's participation would be quite crucial.

COUTTS: Well, this to re-embracing into the Pacific of the ACP. Is that a sign of perhaps a growing warmth to Fiji in the Pacific? Are Australia and New Zealand being left behind or out of step on this?

RATUVA: Well, I mean it's much more complex than what it appears, because the ACP Pacific is a group of island states outside Australia and New Zealand, so they're not part of it, so it's much easier for small island states to re-embrace Fiji into the ACP Pacific, although, I'm sure Australia and New Zealand was not very happy with it. So it's probably the first step towards trying to convince the Forum to re-admit Fiji into the full Forum.

COUTTS: Is Fiji too important to ignore economically speaking, even it's uncomfortable politically?

RATUVA: Yes, I mean that's a key issue here, because the ACP is fundamentally an economic grouping and so the forum is fundamentally political grouping, although it is very much involved in the trade within the Pacific and between the Pacific and the rest of the world. So because of the need for small island states to consolidate its trading links with European Union through what is known as the EPA and I think they recognise that Fiji is crucial in that sense, but also with the PACER Plus, they realise that Fiji's participation is crucial, because it's very much at the centre of the South Pacific trade relationship. So yeah, so you have those complexities, which I think over time they're already thinking through.

COUTTS: And, so it's important that Fiji have the opportunity in the ACP to negotiate deals with the European Union?

RATUVA: Yeah, I mean Fiji and Papua New Guinea have recently signed separate agreements with the European Union and I think at the same time, the small island states want a common framework to deal with the European Union.

COUTTS: PNG and Fiji are out of step with the rest of the Pacific on that?

RATUVA: Yeah, because in terms of trade volume, they're the biggest. In fact, the Pacific ACP can only work with PNG and Fiji being part of it, because that's where the volume is and not so much the other small island states. And also what made Fiji's participation easier is the link with Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea and Fiji have consolidated a very strong, not only political, economic links, the flow of capital from PNG to Fiji and Fiji-PNG has been growing and that's where something like 80% of the total South Pacific economic activity will emanate from in the next 10 years. So first it's through Papua New Guinea, and secondly, I think it's the realisation by the small island states that we can only move ahead if Fiji was part of it. And politics aside, aside from the political situation back in Fiji, I think the pure economic reasons are quite significant.

COUTTS: Is Fiji in the Pacific part of the ACP strengthened or is it slightly compromised by letting them back in?

RATUVA: Well, I think it's both. I think what's been happening is that Fiji has been trying to pull out of the EPA and also the PACER has been trying to place on politics in terms of leveraging it's central position and significant position from within the small island states economic relationship as a means by which it wants its political interests to be heard. So by threatening to pull out, it actually forces the small island states to say, hang on, no we want you. So that kind of political games taking place at this point in time. So the sooner they sort it out the better for the great good of the small island states economies.

COUTTS: And do you think Australia and New Zealand will warm or embrace Fiji a little better than they have been? Will their attitude thaw a little bit?

RATUVA: Well, the diplomatic relationships between Fiji, Australia and New Zealand have kind of warmed up recently, because they have re-established their diplomatic relationship in the last couple of months or so. But I think Australia and New Zealand are still very much concerned about Fiji going through the election and coming out of the election. And I think that will be the deciding moment when they will give full recognition to Fiji.

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