The importance of various support structures and networks in activating trade opportunities in the Pacific region are highlighted in this chapter, as well as the challenges faced by exporters and investors seeking out opportunities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade accepted the important role of governments alongside business networks such as the Australia Pacific Islands Business Council, civil society and Pacific diaspora communities in to encourage businesses and maximise trade opportunities.
The benefits of Aid for Trade programs in the Pacific were identified as strong drivers of self-reliance, private sector development, especially amongst women, and increasing the ease of doing business in some Pacific markets. Helping the Pacific island countries develop uniform standards and expanding educational opportunities for their people were seen as important. This chapter highlights the importance of PacificAus Sports in building relationships and outlines the role in the Pacific of Australian government agencies such as Austrade, Export Finance Australia and Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
Working with business, civil society and Pacific diaspora
As part of a comprehensive approach, DFAT outlined it was promoting trade and investment through linkages with business, civil society, diaspora communities and sports initiatives.
Given the private sector’s role as a job creator and the importance of Australian investment in the Pacific, DFAT claimed improving Australian private sector engagement and investment is high on our agenda.
We are increasing efforts to foster direct linkages between Australian business and Pacific island countries, working more with regional business bodies such as the Australia-Pacific Islands Business Council. We are bolstering and better targeting our trade and investment promotion work, focusing our efforts on particular growth sectors and working more with regional business bodies, such as the three business councils: the Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council, Australia Fiji Business Council and Australia-Pacific Islands Business Council.
The Managing Director of Indra Australia Pty Ltd which delivers air connectivity to nations such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, PNG, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, Mr Tehmur Khan Galindo, outlined there was an important role for the Australian Government to encourage the private sector to explore opportunities in the Pacific.
…the Pacific offers its own set of challenges, such as the tyranny of vastness that separates nations and a challenging business environment. An environment that enables the efficient and fair functioning of business underpins greater trade and investment. At Indra we feel there is a definite role for the Australian government in working with the Pacific and the private sector to improve ease of doing business across the region. We recommend that Australia engages more actively to identify challenges, to problem solve and to utilise private sector knowledge.
According to DFAT, the Pacific diaspora in Australia offers ‘…strong residual connections and knowledge of local markets in their countries of origin – this is an important element in facilitating increased trade and investment with Pacific island countries’.
In Cairns, a large Papua New Guinean diaspora population has facilitated strong trade and investment links with Papua New Guinea, including in education, property and tourism. In Canberra, the Papua New Guinean-themed Niugini Arabica coffee shop and associated roaster in Duffy was established by ANU-affiliated academics from Papua New Guinea and Fiji, who used their links with the Papua New Guinea Highlands to source coffee for the business. In Brisbane, a successful 24-year-old business woman who grew up in Papua New Guinea and attended school in Australia, has entered into business ventures in Port Moresby, Lae and Kimbe through her company Zambilla Co.
The benefits of Aid for Trade for the Pacific
Institute for International Trade submitted Aid for Trade (AfT) receives strong support from economists and trade experts globally, including those from ‘…developing country governments, as well as from non-government organisations (NGOs) such as World Vison, and from the private sector due to its potential to increase trade capacity to the mutual benefit of trading partners’.
The IIT’s internal review of DFAT’s multilateral AfT program was able to identify a number of benefits of AfT for the Pacific, including the following:
AfT tends to strongly reinforce self-reliance as distinct from dependency, and improves the capacity of DCs to trade their way out of poverty through trade and economic growth.
Overall, it has been shown that one dollar invested in AfT is, on average, associated with an increase of nearly USD$8 in exports from all DCs, and an increase of USD$20 in exports from the poorest countries.
AfT has an ongoing focus on private sector development, which is vital to the Pacific, including linkages between business and commercial operations in Australia and for PIC recipients.
AfT can assist Australian as well as Pacific business to engage in more difficult markets, due to improved trade governance, economic diplomacy, and the development of a robust commercial sector in recipient PICs.
AfT promotes Australian services, agricultural goods, technology and expertise, with multiplier effects for recipient PIC countries in terms of choice, and in some cases lower prices.
When applied to resource-rich developing countries such as PNG, AfT translates as Australian support for the implementation of trade and investment liberalisation measures. This reduces barriers to entry and increases the ease of doing business for Australian mining companies.
AfT often facilitates knowledge transfer in support of more efficient and transparent government institutions, and also in support of a more competitive and job creating SME trading sector.
AfT programs often target social inclusion, and therefore address inequality and poverty reduction through trade.
DFAT’s Aid for Trade Adviser Mrs Sabrina Varma at Pacific Economic Growth, Trade and Private Sector Engagement, explained Aid for Trade relates to Official Development Assistance (ODA) that’s dedicated to addressing trade related constraints in developing countries.
It’s a very broad definition, but it enables developing countries themselves to identify their priorities and put them to partner governments to receive funding and technical assistance.
DFAT Lead Economist Mr David Osborne added an important part of Aid for Trade is providing the stability of the macroeconomic and fiscal environment that in turn provides confidence for business to invest and to increase trade.
We support countries throughout the Pacific directly, and we do that through our partners—importantly, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank—directly into the legislative and the regulatory but also in how issues like foreign currency and debt sustainability are managed for each individual country.
Mrs Varma outlined the four main categories of Aid for Trade.
…the first one relates to help around trade policy and regulation—and then around economic infrastructure. The third category is around productive capacity, that sector specific assistance—for example, in agriculture or in services. And then the fourth category is around trade related adjustments.
For example, under PACER Plus, the readiness package, we’re already supporting countries through PFTAC, the Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Centre, which is part of the IMF, helping countries, through tax reform, to deal with their trade liberalisation adjustment commitments into the future.
Supporting more Pacific Islander women in business
ActionAid reminded the Australian Government it was committed to advancing equality and economic empowerment for women across all aspects of Australia’s foreign policy, trade, and aid programs, as per DFAT’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy.
Supporting the empowerment of women and girls is a cornerstone of Australia’s engagement with the Pacific, including through our Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to the region. Australia is also part of several international agreements that promote women’s rights and gender equality, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) and the Sustainable Development Goals (2015).
ActionAid Australia submitted it would like to see these commitments reflected in efforts to activate greater trade and investment in the region to ensure equitable benefits for women.
Australia should resource a full gender impact assessment in each of the Pacific Island countries that is party to an agreement, including formal consultation with national women’s organisations to ensure trading arrangements equitably benefit women and manage potential barriers and impediments facing women. This assessment should be supported by the trade budget and not the existing official development assistance budget.
ActionAid encouraged the Australian Government to strengthen its formal consultation mechanisms with civil society groups, especially Pacific women’s organisations throughout trade negotiations.
Australia should do this by introducing targeted strategies to ensure Pacific women’s organisations are represented in all regional trade negotiations and decision-making.
ActionAid warned the provisions in Trade in Services in the PACER Plus agreement could also have the ‘…potential to undermine public services, which are critical in reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care, which in turn is essential in enabling women to benefit equitably from trade and investment opportunities’.
Providing greater access to private companies to provide these services, combined with protections granted under the agreement to foreign investors, could result in services such as health and education being increasingly deregulated and privatised.
This will not only impact the ability of women living in poverty to access services but could also create challenges if Pacific Island governments attempt to introduce new regulations in these areas. The current clauses have the potential to increase disparities between privately and publicly provided services, thus deepening inequalities, including gender inequality.
ActionAid was dismayed by the Pacific having the ‘…lowest rates of representation of women in parliament and managerial positions of any region in the world’.
As of April 2019, there were only three countries in the world with no women in their national legislatures, and all of them are in the Pacific: The Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu.
In all countries, gender inequality has clear social and economic implications but in the Pacific, according to the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), these implications play out in culturally and contextually specific ways. In the Pacific island countries the IWDA submitted women and men are often integrated very differently into formal and informal economies.
Men tend to dominate well-paid jobs, management positions and entrepreneurial activities, while many Pacific women face barriers to participation in economic and social life. This includes limited access to and control of economic resources, information, and decision-making rights. Women are disproportionally represented in insecure and part-time work, in the informal economy, and in lower paid industries traditionally considered ‘feminine’, such as the service and care industries.
The IWDA outlined women were also largely responsible for vital unpaid subsistence and care-giving activities, such as care of children, elderly people, and people with disabilities, which may impede their ability to engage in paid work.
For example, research into unpaid work from areas of high poverty prevalence in Fiji found that 82 per cent of women regularly do unpaid household work, which may include cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, looking after children or other household members, fetching water and cooking fuel, compared to just 11 per cent of men.
At a community level, men’s and women’s work is often completely segregated, resulting in the development of highly specialised skills and knowledge, particularly in relation to natural resource management, fishing and agricultural work.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development submitted that more support was required to bolster the numbers of female traders and women businesses in the Pacific through the respective women business associations.
Design targeted policies that address the supply-side constraints that inhibit Pacific Islands women’s participation in trade-related activities. Ensure a gender-responsive implementation and monitoring of Pacer Plus to ensure that women and men equally benefit from it.
Involving business with ministerial visits to the Pacific
The Australia-PNG, Australia-Fiji and Australia-Pacific business councils jointly submitted their support for more bilateral visits to the Pacific island countries by the Trade Minister.
By the Councils reckoning the number of bilateral visits by Trade Ministers in the current millennium can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Other portfolio Ministers who do visit the region do not usually focus on promoting business linkages, nor do they engage with business on those visits. Their focus is mainly on strategic and development assistance matters.
More bilateral visits to the region by the Australian Trade Minister would send a strong signal of support to Australian business and to both Pacific islands business and governments.
The three business councils welcomed the Prime Minister making bilateral visits to Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands in 2019, which they believed was first time since their independence that an Australian Prime Minister has made bilateral visits to Vanuatu and Fiji.
While the Prime Minister was accompanied on these visits by the security and development assistance apparatus from Canberra, there was no invitation to business to accompany the Prime Minister. Nor was there any opportunity during the visit for engagement with business.
This stands in stark contrast with the support the New Zealand Government gives to New Zealand business in the Pacific. For many years we have drawn this difference to the attention of the Australian Government, but nothing changes. The day after the Australian Prime Minister’s visit to Honiara in June 2019 the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister flew into Honiara with a delegation of New Zealand business people amongst the New Zealand officials and others on the aircraft. Even the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister took a delegation of 40 business executives on his visit to Solomon Islands in February 2020.
The business councils outlined the exception being in relation to Prime Ministerial bilateral visits to Papua New Guinea when it was usual for there to be a business related function, usually a breakfast, which the Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council have hosted.
The President of the Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council and Managing Director of ANZ Bank in PNG, Mr Mark Baker, highlighted the broad experience and expertise of the executives on the various business councils in the Pacific that the Australian Government should consult with.
We start with resources, energy, infrastructure, food, beverage, agriculture and legal and professional services—and the list goes on. There is a general view that if you look at the depth of experience of people across those executives, you will see there are decades of experience…We have a view that perhaps that is not being tapped into the way it could be. It’s a question of the history that people have here and some of the mistakes that have been made in the past, which you see sometimes being repeated. The general theme there is that the more engagement the Australian Government can have with the business council the better the outcome all around.
Solomon Island Australia Investment Forum
The Solomon Islands Government welcomed a bilateral initiative with the Australian Government which is the Solomon Islands (SI)/Australia Investment Forum organised by the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI). The Solomon Island believed coordinated policy measures and strategies could be devised to address the challenges raised at the forum.
This forum enables the private sector to better understand each other but also provides an avenue for them to collaborate in specific issues.
Domestically, this mechanism offers an opportunity for Government agencies and officials, especially Ministry for Commerce, Industry, Employment and Labour, the Ministry for National Planning and Development Coordination, other productive sector Ministries and Ministry for Foreign Affairs and External Trade to be informed of the unique challenges faced by different stakeholders.
Helping the Pacific develop uniform standards
Australia’s peak non-government, not-for-profit standards organisation, Standards Australia, was committed to working through its International Engagement Team with developing countries in the Asia Pacific to ‘…strengthen and harmonise standards, ultimately facilitating increased trade in the region’.
We are eager to enhance and accelerate this work to support further development of standardisation systems to ultimately stimulate greater trade in the region. We build on our long experience and proficiency in the business to help other National Standards Bodies deliver on obligations to the rules-based system, and operate effectively for their economies, reducing frictions and technical barriers to trade.
Standards Australia outlined only three Pacific nations, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu, have internationally recognised National Standards Bodies.
Across the majority of Pacific island countries, quality infrastructure in general and standards development in particular are in their infancy.
The role Standards Australia can play in assisting Pacific island countries, included advice on trade agreements, conducting research and providing recommendations for harmonisation of standards across industry sectors that support trade negotiations. An international example was an early outcomes study for IA-CEPA (Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) highlighting areas of standards harmonisation and regulatory alignment.
We assist counterpart National Standards Bodies to ensure they build and maintain strong and reliable national standardisation systems. This allows Australian businesses to trade with confidence and strengthen our regional economy.
We carry out both bilateral and plurilateral work in the region, including needs assessments using international ‘good standardisation practice’ methodology, and structured, professional institutional strengthening and capacity building, based on skills and competency objectives for standardisers.
Mr Aidan Devitt, who worked as a volunteer for six months within the Fijian Department of National Trade Measurement and Standards (DNTMS), submitted the challenge for Pacific island countries was accessing the technical experts to develop standards. He gain firsthand experience of Fiji working at the DNTMS, which is the National Standards Body (NSB) of Fiji, with responsibility to produce Fijian Standards.
Technical expertise is required to develop standards, implement and use standards in policy and regulatory functions and undertake conformity assessments. Fiji being one of the largest economies in the region, does have a number of technical experts available, however this is small in number compared to Australia and New Zealand. This can hinder Fiji’s capacity to adopt, adapt or develop standards.
The process for the development of a Fijian Standard, according to Mr Devitt, involved a technical committee of Fijian experts analysing the content of an International or Australian standard and ‘determining whether it is applicable to the Fijian context’.
The technical committee will decide whether the standard is to be adopted directly or with amendments, or whether a new standard should be drafted from scratch. In most circumstances, the technical committee will decide to adopt the standard directly or with some minor amendments.
Mr Devitt outlined that once the standard has been developed it then needs to be adopted in a policy or regulatory framework.
Currently in Fiji, the perception is that standards are laws and/or regulations on their own. This is not the case. Standards are baseline information that has been developed by consensus to support the execution of a product, process, service or system. They are often used to support policy and regulation, but themselves are not policies or regulations.
Mr Devitt detailed there are two different types of National Standards Bodies (NSBs) in the Pacific region.
Major economies with access to suitable technical expertise would be expected to develop and write standards, along with encouraging policy makers and regulators within the country to align policy and regulatory frameworks with standards.
For smaller economies, with no suitable technical expertise, their role would be to encourage alignment of policy and regulatory frameworks with suitable international and regional standards. The NSB should be a government organisation sitting within a suitable ministry/department such as foreign affairs, trade, engineering, economic development or business development.
Mr Devitt stressed in order to set up NSBs’ in the region, ‘external technical expertise and support will be required’.
This support would include drafting appropriate legislation (where required) to create and empower a NSB, as well as development of standard operating procedures for standards development, using standards in policy and regulation and stakeholder consultation and capability development amongst staff. Australia should facilitate this technical support, through the funding both locally and externally.
Standards Australia believed market access for trade would improve by better standards too.
Strengthened standards development and implementation would not only improve health, safety and environmental outcomes for our Pacific neighbours but would also have significant benefits in facilitating market access, standards harmonisation, technical alignment and regulatory coherence. Technical barriers to trade can be reduced through a more sustained focus on strengthening standards and conformity assessment cooperation.
When NSBs have been set up in each Pacific island country, Mr Devitt believed a key task would be for them to identify suitable stakeholders and ‘educate them on standards and conformance assessments, and how they can be used to support economic development…’
Resources need to be developed that can be sent to Pacific countries, but also reinforced by on-going technical support provided on the ground and externally.
Mr Devitt believed examples of the adoption of new standards working throughout the region would help with Pacific islanders gain familiarity with why it matters.
Whilst I was working in Fiji, with the taskforce on quality electrical appliances, I encouraged the Fijian adoption of IEC 60335 – Household and electrical appliance safety, whose adoption would in effect make it compulsory for electrical appliances sold within Fiji to comply. This International Standard is used throughout the world to stop poor quality electrical items being sold.
Mr Devitt hoped if efforts have been successful for the countries within the Pacific region to use standards and conformance assessments more widely, then a possibility to be explored is the ‘development and use of a regional standard, i.e. Pacific Standard’.
A Pacific Standard could be used across all Pacific Island countries, enabling inter-regional trade as well as trade with the rest of the world. The Standard would be based on an International or Australian equivalent.
As noted by Mr Devitt, a shortcoming for the use and development of standards in the Pacific would be the lack of technical experts to consider and develop the standards.
Each nation would nominate where it has suitable and diverse technical expertise available in key subject areas. This could include tourism, sustainability, building and construction, engineering, manufacturing, health, food safety, agriculture, transportation, and safety.
Supporting the Pacific Quality Infrastructure Initiative
The need for strengthened Pacific quality infrastructure has recently been recognised across the region, according to Standards Australia, marking an important window for action.
A workshop convened by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat as part of their Pacific Quality Infrastructure Initiative resulted in a commitment to improve quality infrastructure and regional cooperation to enhance trade. The initiative aims to address the limited access to quality infrastructure and related services in the region, affecting Pacific island countries’ economic competitiveness, safety of goods and services, and overall quality of life.
The forum was attended by representatives from Pacific government ministries, local businesses, chambers of commerce, quality infrastructure bodies, trade associations, and international partner agencies, who committed to a Regional Quality Statement expressing ‘the strong potential of quality infrastructure to underpin the health, safety, wealth and sustainability of the Pacific Island economies and their people’.
However, this initiative remains in the early stages and no future work has yet been confirmed. There is an opportunity for Australia to support this initiative to help stimulate trade in the region.
Skills development for Pacific island customs officers
According to the Centre for Customs and Excise Studies (CCES) the 2017 Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) Conference, member countries supported the introduction of a framework to develop and strengthen their capacity for national reforms and the professional development of customs officers in the region.
OCO Professional Standards Framework (OPSF) aims to:
ensure that PIC customs officers understand and enforce customs laws and procedures uniformly;
standardise regional customs training and provide a framework for continuous learning; and
create a professional cadre of officers in the region who will be able to deliver regional capacity building to members when requested whilst at the same time supporting their respective national training efforts. This aim is in response to the shortage of customs specialists (experts) in critical technical areas of customs.
The CCES highlighted that the OPSF also addresses the need to quickly build capacity in specific areas such as the Harmonized System nomenclature (tariff classification), customs valuation and rules of origin to encourage members to harness the opportunities provided by preferential trade regimes within the Pacific, including PACER Plus and other international and regional trade agreements.
Enhanced knowledge of customs responsibilities under these arrangements will strengthen the technical and professional capacity of PIC administrations to uniformly apply and interpret their cross-border provisions and obligations. Moreover, the enhanced capacity will allow Customs administrations to provide necessary outreach activities to the private sector and other institutions involved in the implementation of free trade agreements.
Pacific power and Pacific water associations
Hydro Tasmania linked firm Entura that currently provides renewable energy, water and power engineering services in Australia and the Indo-Pacific outlined the merits of being founding member, supporter and sponsor of the Isolated Power Systems (IPS) Connect Forum/Conference since 2015, in association with the Pacific Power Association (PPA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). These associations have facilitated visits from Pacific utilities to Australian remote hybrid power systems for participation in professional development sessions and conferences.
Entura recognises the importance of networks in the conduct and success of business in the Pacific. Informal networks are strong, but it can be challenging to establish or become part of them. The Australia Pacific Islands Business Council provides a starting point for new entrants. For Entura, the Pacific Power Association and Pacific Water Association are powerful networking supports. To build business relationships, it is advantageous to leverage existing relationships with well-connected parties to benefit from extended reach into their broader networks.
Entura’s International Business Development Manager, Mr James Mason, explained the Pacific Power Association allows all the power utilities in the Pacific to share ideas on common challenges and also training opportunities.
It’s probably the most influential body in the Pacific. It is a bit of a networking body, but it has strong connections. Most of the CEOs of all the power utilities in the Pacific countries get together annually…There are a lot of common challenges in the Pacific. They tend to find that if one country needs something then generally everyone’s looking at a similar sort of opportunity…more recently training opportunities throughout the Pacific. So, rather than just going to one country and doing the training, they’re able to bring all those countries together and do the training.
Pacific Readiness for Investment in Social Enterprise
The Pacific Readiness for Investment in Social Enterprise (Pacific RISE) is an example of an Australian Government-supported program connecting investors (including Australian investors) to Pacific social enterprises to create long-term investment relationships. DFAT outlined Pacific RISE seeks to connect investors to Pacific social enterprises and create long-term investment relationships.
The Pacific Investment Readiness Pilot from 2015-16 demonstrated that investors were interested and ready to invest in the Pacific if they became familiar with the business climate and potential investments. The pilot resulted in two investments: A$80,000 for a Samoan coconut factory and A$656,000 for a Vanuatu coffee producer recovering from Tropical Cyclone Pam.
Through the Pacific RISE program, DFAT submitted that Australia is supporting the design of an investment fund which would enable Pacific diaspora in Australia to invest in Pacific businesses. Through a partnership with the Pacific Business Sports Entrepreneurs (PBSE) group, Pacific RISE will provide technical support on the initial research and design of the fund, including support for a gender analysis, and funding to conduct investor engagement.
Expanding educational opportunities in the Pacific
The Institute for International Trade highlighted Australia’s strong track record in support for the Australian Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) and other vocational education agencies in the Pacific, such as the Kiribati Institute for Technology which has ‘…trained over 9,000 I-Kiribati preparing young people for jobs in the trades, horticulture, business and ICT as well as in hospitality and health care services’.
There has been a significant increase in demand for skills development across the Pacific in ICT and ecommerce, how to run your own business for both local production and export/import, for basic and advanced skills in tourism, hospitality, finance, management and leadership skills.
By extending skills training to key areas of future labour market demand in Australia and New Zealand as well as locally, Australian aid and AfT programs can make a serious contribution to the capacity of Pacific Islanders to innovate and develop the required skills for successful businesses and trade enterprises into the future.
IIT believed Australian ODA and AfT should continue to play a prominent role in the building of educational and skills capacity of ‘…Pacific Islanders to embrace and capture business, investment and trade opportunities into the future’.
Given that trade liberalisation can lead to changing patterns of demand for workforce skills, there is a need for aid funds in general, as well as AfT funds, to be available to support the training/retraining of the Pacific work force in areas of vocational education, as well as tertiary education.
Academic Mr Malcolm Bosworth declared looking forward these Pacific island economies should probably want to look beyond just focussing on the unskilled seasonal labour and its remittances into providing skilled labour.
Now, to do that obviously requires a lot more home training and education back in these economies, these island economies, to actually create those skills and that training, whether they be nurses or healthcare providers or whatever. But it also means that Australia and New Zealand have to be more open to not limiting foreign labourers coming in to [being] the unskilled workers. They have to be prepared to allow the skilled workers to come in. If they do that then of course that creates more opportunities in the island economies. It means the people who come out here will attract higher wages, and that will enable remittances to increase as well.
Training provider with experience in the Pacific Mr William Bowen agreed with the importance of establish long term programs training Pacific islanders in specific skills that are in demand in Australia.
…certainly one of the areas we identified in our study was nursing skills and aged care. There’s a considerable demand here, and the issue is how do we set up systems to train people in the Pacific to an Australian standard and sustain it over a long period.
Mr Bowen, who recalled Australia’s illegal logging legislation having an negative impact on the PNG forestry industry, believed Australia should focused more on producing policies and training structures that would better aid the industry and its workers.
Where we really failed was in providing the kind of technical training for people to be able to do more work in that industry. Bear in mind that out in the remote gulf and western provinces it’s really the forestry industry that provides the health and education and other services out in those areas. There’s a lot of scope…for us to design policies to train people to be able to move up the economic scale to generate more economic growth. There’s quite an opportunity here. That’s where I would like to see a real focus on training, which we used to do, in the Pacific.
Ms Danielle Heinecke, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Operations and Development, DFAT, highlighted across the Pacific and Timor-Leste in particular the strong links between Australian and Pacific schools.
…and we’re supporting that through a new bridge program that links school students. That’s really important. We’re getting kids talking to kids in classrooms so that we can start to raise that Pacific family idea at all levels of society.
Ms Heinecke also recalled the Tuvalu trade minister explaining the hoped for benefits of Tuvaluans acquiring skills from working in Australian aquaculture on the three-year Pacific Labour Scheme.
…they’re hoping that a lot of them are focused in the aquaculture fishing industry in Australia. What they’re really getting, through those three-year visas, is upskilling but also learning how to run a business. Tuvalu really hopes that they can bring back a lot of the skills that they’re learning in Australia, through those labour mobility opportunities, to start to develop parts of their fishing industry not only in the SME space but also in the commercial space. In a lot of the Pacific island countries, as you know, fishing is a huge part of their future potential and a huge amount of their export earnings.
Finance Professor Satish Chand outlined that Pacific islanders could help fill a growing skills shortages in Australia.
…assuming the economy continues to grow at the rate it has done over the past decade—per capita, we have grown at roughly 1.8 per cent per year—there has been a yawning gap in the middle skills, so in the technical and vocational skills, and it has been yawning over time. Our projections are, on fairly realistic assumptions, that we would be short of workers within those middle skills by something like two million by 2050, or roughly 70,000 each year.
Before COVID-19, Adjunct Professor Chand looked at how those gaps are being filled currently.
…they are from three major sources. One is New Zealand. There are quite a few New Zealanders, and the majority of them are in this middle-skill level. There are about 600,000 Kiwis who work over here. There are about another 600,000 students who do a lot of this work as petrol attendants and so on. We have the backpackers. The Pacific workers are fairly small, but we do have some natives who down skill; there are students and so on who do work below what they’re qualified to do.
Adjunct Professor Chand believed if the skill demand is unmet then Australia will pay in lower rates of GDP growth, or, alternatively, have locals who will down skill and do work that they are overqualified for.
I guess the current crisis and the spike in unemployment will create issues regarding letting foreign workers in, but what we argue in our paper is that there is room for circulation of workers, particularly from the Pacific given the proximity.
It very much supports the notion of the government of trying to build people-to-people links within the region. It very much works towards the concept of vuvale, or family. We will have the workers, and not necessarily just the unskilled but those with technical and vocational education, where the gaps are the largest, who would come to Australia, but not necessarily just to Australia. We looked at the forum island countries as a whole. Job opportunities in Papua New Guinea for technical and vocational skills are fairly high. It’s the same in Fiji. The issue is more in terms of supply.
Adjunct Professor Chand highlighted the biggest issue within the Pacific region and in Papua New Guinea particularly was Australia’s ‘…inability to take the very large cohort of youth, employable people, and upskill them such that they could then be employed productively in the region’.
If we were able to do that, then it would be great for the workers themselves and it would be great for the source nations, but it would be equally great for the destination countries. We’re saying the challenge for policy is in being able to harness this large population of youth for the benefit of everybody…how do we translate this large group of youth, this cohort that is already available to us and is going to be available over the future, upskill them for the jobs that are going to arise, not necessarily just in Australia or New Zealand but in the region as a whole?
Oaktree as Australia’s largest youth-led development organisation submitted for Australia to activate trade in the Pacific region, it is also ‘…vital that young people in the Pacific are equipped with the skills and education necessary to deal with the demands of the 21st century’.
We have the capability to strengthen the undisputed link between education and skills development and therefore, expand the region’s trading capacity.
Oaktree believed there was room to capture trade and employment links through the Australian Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) a government initiative to provide Pacific youth with Australian accredited degrees.
It has seen great success — over 15,000 Pacific Islanders have gained tertiary qualifications through the program. Its effectiveness could be enhanced through a greater focus on accessibility to the program, such as aiding high school students and their movement into post-secondary education at the APTC. By providing scholarships to the APTC, we can ensure that the best performing students in high school are rewarded with an opportunity to expand their horizons, rather than only those that can afford it.
Oaktree expected these opportunities will lead to a ‘…more formally educated generation in the region ready to be a part of the workforce, which ultimately furthers the development of Pacific countries’.
This initiative could involve providing scholarships to those recommended by the respective governments of the Pacific based on their actions in the community or through the sponsorship of potential students by employers in Australia. The need for such a program is exhibited by the low number of matriculating youths in the region.
For example, in Papua New Guinea, out of the 23,000 who completed Grade 12 in 2015, only 4,700 continued with higher education in 2016.
Oaktree believed the initiative could also be complemented by establishing a youth-focused bridging program that would link qualifications awarded by the APTC with employers in Australia offering employment through the Pacific Labour Scheme.
By implementing this program it would prioritise young people for selection in the program and would see up to three years of opportunities regarding skill and financial development offered to the emerging generation in our region. This would ensure that employment gaps in industries in rural and regional Australia are filled with the people that need these opportunities the most. Additionally, it will strengthen our relationship with our Pacific family through allowing Pacific Islanders to reside here and to forge a mutually beneficial association…This would consist of having Pacific Islanders work in Australia and then returning to their home country for a specified amount of time and then returning to their employer in Australia. This would ensure that the skills they have gained through the APTC and in Australia are able to aid in strengthening both countries.
Oaktree expected accessibility to the program could also be improved by removing the requirement that participants need prior experience in a field of employment to gain a scholarship to the APTC.
This requirement precludes some of the most disadvantaged people in the region from accessing opportunities to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.
DFAT’s Ms Heinecke explained a goal the Australian government was how does Australia get more affordable education linkages between the Pacific and Australia?
The Australia-Pacific Technical College…really is focused in the technical space, and that’s about building up skills in their home country but also about giving greater opportunities. There are some of the labour mobility schemes that we’ve got. There are a huge number of domestic Australian meatworks companies that have invested in Pacific islanders…we see that there will be opportunities for more permanent migration...
Mrs Kylie Sterling, Austrade’s Trade and Investment Commissioner Pacific, took 12 Australian universities to Fiji and Samoa in March 2020.
…that’s focused on the Australian awards program that’s funded by DFAT. That is encouraging Pacific islanders to come and study at tertiary education services in Australia. The interest that we get from the alumni in the Pacific is very strong. They’re very interested to come and study in Australia. Then what we find with Australian businesses linking with those is that they’re very interested to link with those alumni in the Pacific because they’ve got that link…to Australians and Australian business and the community.
Save the Children Australia outlined the proposal of its social venture, Inclusiv Ventures, to leverage Australia’s commitment to installing a high-speed undersea internet cable between Australia, PNG and Solomon Islands. The aim of Incluiv Ventures is to treble the number of learners in higher education and vocational training in PNG over five years, to help address concerns about students’ access to training and new jobs in a post-COVID-19 Pacific by expanding inclusion in educational opportunities through eLearning.
Our proposed five year project would create a national eLearning platform based on Moodle, the world’s largest open source learning system and an Australian company, along with building a national eLearning community of practice, curriculum and course instructional design and development, delivery including infrastructure solutions taking eLearning to provincial areas, and creating a technology services ecosystem. Our partners include the PNG Ministry of Education, universities and vocational training institutions, Kumul Industries (the PNG Government Telco provider and owner of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)-funded undersea internet cable), and international education software providers.
Save the Children believed this project would support Australia’s aims in building human capital in the PICs, helping to boost jobs, educational outcomes, and employability.
Developing sporting relationships with PacificAus Sports
The Australian Government is also stimulating business and investment through PacificAus Sports, which supports new Pacific teams to compete in Australian sporting competitions.
These new sports teams and businesses will create employment opportunities for Pacific athletes, coaches, support staff and administrators. The teams will also attract sponsorship both in Australia and throughout the Pacific, generating interest when they play home fixtures and among Pacific diaspora communities when they play in Australia. Likewise, Australian teams will contribute to Pacific island countries’ economies through regular travel to the region.
Ms Danielle Heinecke, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Operations and Development, DFAT, stressed sporting links were an important part of the Pacific step-up with a $52 million program up to 2023.
…it has three components. The first one is developing pathways for Pacific teams to play in high-level sporting competitions in Australia. The ultimate goal there might be about getting a Pacific team in Super Rugby or the NRL competition, but there has to be a pathway towards that. We started off with the Hunters from PNG in Queensland Rugby League. If that goes well, obviously the big issue is about getting commercial sponsorship, and that’s not easy, particularly when Pacific players are a really important part of European comps in many sports, as well as Australian. So a lot of it is commercial constraints as well as linking that back to commercial organisations and the organisation of sport in those countries. So that’s a first objective, because that’s really important to nation building.
Ms Heinecke outlined the second objective of supporting Australian teams to increase their presence and participation in the Pacific.
An example of that is that the Young Matildas will do a tour of the Pacific islands in 2020, and that will be the first time that we’ve had a national team touring the Pacific. We recently supported a Fijian rugby team, the girls rugby team Fiji Islands, to come out to Australia. They’ve just done a tour, playing Queensland and New South Wales. For the first time ever, they’ve been paid. We did that through the program, recognising that women can be paid at equal rates as well.
The third objective of the Pacific sport program according Ms Heinecke was creating opportunities for emerging Pacific athletes.
We’re really trying to connect grassroots organisations in Australia to support coaching opportunities for Pacific Islanders so they can be more integrated into our programs, which gives them a greater role internationally in sport. Looking across it, it has a really strong women-themed agenda. We’re looking at a number of codes. At the moment we have partnerships with Rugby Australia, the NRL as well as in netball and football. We’re also looking at Cricket Australia as well. They’re the main sports in the Pacific. Those connections are going really well.
Case study of the Fiji Kaiviti Silktails Rugby League Club
DFAT claimed the creation of the Fiji Kaiviti Silktails Rugby League Club as an early PacificAus Sports success.
The Fiji-based team will play in the NSW Rugby League Ron Massey Cup in 2020. Australia’s support for the team has effectively acted as seed funding for the club, enabling it to attract sponsorship within Fiji and Australia, allowing them to employ coaching and administration staff, sign young Fijians to playing contracts and invest in a training facility in Nadi. PacificAus Sports will seek to replicate their success with other Pacific countries and sports, such as netball, through to 2023.
Supporting PNG rugby league in North Queensland
The Cairns Regional Council identified sport, and rugby league in particular, presenting a unique opportunity to strengthen the economic, social, and cultural connection between Australia and PNG, as emphasised by the Australian Government’s Pacific Sports Partnership.
Perhaps no single act from an Australian government would do more to strengthen the economic, social and cultural connection between Australia and PNG, than bringing a PNG rugby league team into the National Rugby League (NRL) competition. Cairns would be an ideal partner and Australian home ground if this were to eventuate.
The Regional Council noted that PNG Hunters and Northern Pride (Cairns) rugby league teams were already part of the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) competition. The Regional Council believed this would also provide added opportunities for the development of the women’s equivalent, the PNG Orchids rugby league team.
Rugby league is an effective way to build stronger ties between Australia and PNG at a time when other powers are competing for influence. A foreign policy initiative supporting NRL expansion, and provision of additional support to PNG to operate within the national league, would build immense soft diplomacy power for Australia. The NRL has stated they are currently looking at the structure of the league, and that PNG would be considered as part of any expansion review.
Using Pacific Games in lead up to Australia hosting 2032 Olympics
Further to the successful bid by Queensland and Australia to host the 2032 Olympic Games, the Cairns Regional Council believed there is the opportunity to further strengthen Australia’s sporting ties with the Pacific island countries by Cairns hosting of competition and training camps across a range of sporting codes.
Cairns is an ideal base for elite athlete training camps associated with the Australia-Pacific Sports Linkages Program. Cairns has hosted the Japan swim team for warm weather training over the Japanese winter for the past three years for example.
The Regional Council highlighted Cairns as a regional centre for sporting activity suitable for hosting the Pacific Games following its recent experience successfully staging the annual IRONMAN Asia-Pacific event with domestic and international competitors from Pacific nations including those from PNG, Samoa, Tonga and Nauru.
In this context, if Australia applies to join the Pacific Games Council, Cairns would be an excellent conduit for Australia to increase engagement through the Pacific Games. Bidding to co-host with a Pacific nation partner such as Lae in PNG would be a notable move toward closer integration with Australia’s Pacific neighbours.
Australian Trade and Investment Commission
According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) the current level of Australian business activity in Pacific markets reflects the scale of the opportunities on offer as compared to the larger opportunities in other international markets.
Austrade foresaw the growing investment in the Pacific region, increasing commercial activity, and emerging technologies will all help ‘drive expansion of business opportunities in the region and present new sectors of growth’.
The Pacific is currently attracting increased attention from the international business community which will increase competition for Australian firm. This growing number of global firms operating in the region may also create new customers and possibilities for partnerships for Australian businesses in the Pacific.
Austrade has identified the Pacific as a priority region for Australia and is encouraging a focus on infrastructure services, new technologies, digital education, training and innovation.
These enablers will allow Australian firms to explore the possibilities of different technological solutions in areas of service delivery and business activity. When combined with the key strategic drivers contained in the Australian Government’s Step-up agenda, as well as other commercial opportunities, Austrade and is supporting its clients to aspire to new markets, products and commercial dividends across the Pacific.
Improving Austrade’s presence in the Pacific
DFAT submitted that as part of a 2018 internal International Network Review, Austrade considered various options to enhance agency resources focused on the Pacific, as part of a broader reform agenda. In 2019, Austrade created a dedicated Pacific-focused team based in Auckland, overseen by General Manager Pacific and comprising three A-based staff (Brisbane, Australia; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG); and Auckland, New Zealand) and 6.5 locally engaged business development managers that service clients across the Pacific.
In addition to its physical presence in the region, Austrade recognises that success in the Pacific requires strong relationships and networks Business Councils, Pacific Trade Invest, Industry Associations, Chambers of Commerce and government trade and investment institutions. These organisations are all important to enhancing Australia’s commercial presence in the Pacific and our operating and business model. Equally Austrade works closely with numerous Australian-based Pacific business councils to provide opportunities and link businesses.
The Australia-PNG, Australia-Fiji and Australia-Pacific business councils recalled back in 2008 when Austrade had three staffed offices in the Pacific: Austrade was in Port Moresby (which at one time had three Trade Commissioners and also covers Solomon Islands), Noumea, and Fiji (which had some regional responsibilities).
In 2008 Austrade withdrew the Australia-based representation from Noumea. In 2012 Austrade closed the Noumea Office, and withdrew the Australia-based position from Suva while retaining the Office with a lower level of staffing. Responsibilities for the work undertaken by these Offices was then reposed in a new position created in Austrade’s Brisbane Office.
Since 2008 the Australia-PNG, Australia-Fiji and Australia-Pacific business councils have made representations to government and to Austrade about this ‘declining support for Australian business in the Pacific but have been met with political and bureaucratic straight bats’.
The Pacific Trade Commissioner based in Brisbane has done a herculean job in trying to cover the workload, and has been well regarded by the Councils and by business more generally. He has been as effective as it is possible to be while not residing in the market. But there is no substitute for being on the ground. After six years he is now being moved along by Austrade so the experience and business knowledge and contacts he has developed will be lost.
Austrade’s Acting General Manager of Government and Partnerships, Ms Margaret Bowen, highlighted Australia’s geographic location and its deep global supply chains present ‘competitive advantages, which attract relatively large numbers of Australian exporters’.
There are around 4,400 Australian exporters active in Papua New Guinea and around 3,300 Australian exporters active in Fiji. Austrade doesn’t need to be engaged with exporters where business is already flowing well. We get involved where there’s a supply chain gap, where there’s a market failure or where the badge of government is important in Australian businesses’ commercial activity overseas.
Ms Bowen defended its presence in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
We’ve been in there [PNG] since 1975. We’ve been in Fiji since 1970. In Auckland, we have a Pacific focused team. Kylie’s based in Melbourne but travels all over the Pacific. So we’re thin on the ground but we pack a fair bit of punch, because Australian companies are often looking for advice and assistance in the Pacific, where there are business challenges that we can assist with.
As of 2020 Australia-PNG, Australia-Fiji and Australia-Pacific business councils also highly commended the work, support and engagement with business of the Senior Trade Commissioner and Consul-General in Auckland to whom the Brisbane and Port Moresby positions report.
But the fundamental structural issue remains that there is no Australia-based Austrade representation in the region between Port Moresby and Auckland. The major markets in the Pacific are Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Fiji. Despite the efforts of the Austrade individuals identified above, this structural deficiency hinders Australian business interests in the region.
Austrade’s role in the Pacific
According to Austrade, it recognises that the Pacific has long been an attractive market for a range of Australian businesses, which have ‘…benefitted from the competitive advantage offered by our geographic location, well established supply chains, historical markets and emerging opportunities in the region’.
Austrade outlined that the most commonly exported Australian goods and services to the Pacific include:
food and beverage products including cereals and grains
building and construction materials, and
prefabricated buildings and structures.
Austrade also assists Australian exporters looking to provide a range of services in tourism, education, infrastructure, architecture and mining sectors.
Austrade looks to promote Australian capabilities to Pacific nations to help meet their development needs and promote economic growth.
Our services in the region are focused on the sectors and areas where we see the strongest commercial potential. For Fiji and the Pacific Islands, our priority sectors are International Education, Major Infrastructure and Urban Development. In PNG, we are focused on trade opportunities in International Education and Resources and Energy.
Leveraging the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific
Austrade submitted it was also focused on leveraging opportunities created under the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) for Australian companies to provide services and products to support delivery of projects in the Pacific by accessing funding under the AIFFP.
Investing in and developing human capital in the Pacific is critical to Australia’s aspirations in the Government’s Step-up agenda…there are skills and capability deficits in key sectors such as infrastructure, agribusiness, digital skills and health which provide opportunities for the Australian training and tertiary sectors to meet future industry needs.
Education missions to Fiji, Samoa and PNG
Austrade partners with DFAT in annual education missions to Fiji, Samoa and PNG for potential students to discuss career and course content for studying in Australian universities when COVID-19 travel restrictions ease or accessing online studies. Through these education missions Australia provides Pacific Island students the skills and knowledge to drive change and influence economic and social development.
Opportunities in resources, energy, water and infrastructure
Austrade has identified growing opportunities for Australian businesses in the resources, energy, water, and infrastructure sectors, as well as encouraging digital and innovative businesses in the Pacific.
We will continue to prioritise our efforts in PNG and Fiji as the markets that present the greatest commercial opportunities in the region with ongoing engagement in New Caledonia and Samoa.
Opportunities from the digital transformation of the Pacific
DFAT submitted that Australia is supporting the digital transformation of the Pacific by ‘…financing infrastructure projects and supporting take-up of digital solutions to drive efficiencies in business, government and communications’.
Austrade believed access to high-quality digital technologies in the future will enable the geographically dispersed communities in the Pacific to benefit from the improved connectivity through:
Improved access to regional and international markets, including leveraging digital trade
Expanded online delivery of education and training services
Improved access to services – including banking, business transactions, and government
Improved communications and connectivity, and
Leveraging critical geospatial and climate data.
DFAT outlined that future strategic investments like the Coral Sea Fibre-Optic Cable (PNG and Solomon Islands) will present new digital business opportunities in the region.
Ongoing amplification of existing cables in Fiji and Samoa provides a technology base to introduce e-commerce and new digital solutions that may assist with traditional development needs (e.g. fintech, regional and remote area internet access, education and training, digital technologies for government and business).
In February 2020 DFAT’s Ms Danielle Heinecke, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Operations and Development, outlined that the actual laying of 4,700km of undersea fibre optic cables for the Coral Sea cable project from Australia to PNG and Solomon Islands was complete.
The ultimate objective is really to reduce costs to consumers but also increase the speed of internet so they can access global opportunities through the internet: education et cetera. There’s still work to be done on the in-country side of it to make sure that that is taken advantage of and that the regulatory regimes around telecoms in those countries ensure that there is competition in the sector as a result.
DFAT’s Lead Economist at the Office of the Pacific Mr David Osborne, confirmed at a domestic level in both ‘…Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands there’s work continuing to support the connection to international cables…’ and to encourage competition from providers.
That is both at infrastructure investments and at the regulatory level. A big part of our continuing support in that area is around the capacity of the domestic—whether it be a state owned enterprise or the regulator themselves—to be able to deal with the pricing issue and the wholesale, and the connection between the wholesale market and the retail market, which, as you’d understand, is very narrow in those two countries.
DFAT’s Mr William Costello, Assistant Secretary, Pacific Labour Mobility and Economic Growth Branch, highlighted reports from Solomon Islands from retailers who are ‘…pleasantly surprised by the demand response by consumers’.
…so they are looking at purchasing more bandwidth, if you like, than they had expected to, so we think there’ll be sort of a rapid uptake because of consumer demand.
Export Finance Australia
Export Finance Australia (EFA) is the Australian government’s export credit agency. DFAT submitted that it plays a critical role in supporting Australian export trade by providing finance to support viable exporters, companies seeking to invest overseas and overseas infrastructure development.
Most advanced economies have government-mandated export credit agencies. Their purpose is to support and enable export trade. Generally, these agencies provide government-backed finance solutions to businesses to help them grow exports and invest overseas. The type of support each agency provides depends upon the mandate from government and can include the provision of loans, insurance or equity.
Export Finance Australia’s assists exporters with a range of finance solutions, including:
Loans: to support export contracts, or to overseas buyers of Australian goods and services;
Bonds: to help Australian companies with their obligations under overseas contracts;
Guarantees: to financiers of overseas buyers of Australian goods and services or to an Australian exporter’s bank; and
Insurance: to protect Australian exporters against the possibility of non-payment due to certain commercial and political risks.
Export Finance Australia’s role in the Pacific
Export Finance Australia submitted it has a long history of supporting Australian businesses to export their goods and services to the Pacific.
For example, Export Finance Australia’s US$350 million loan to support the PNG LNG Project helped Australian companies secure over $1 billion worth of contracts during the construction phase of the project.
Export Finance Australia outlined that in April 2019, the Government expanded EFA’s mandate and financing capacity to assist the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific and boost its ability to support infrastructure development in the Pacific region.
The amendments to the EFIC Act have increased Export Finance Australia’s financing capacity with an extra $1 billion in callable capital to enable it to support more and larger projects in our region and allow it to support a broader range of infrastructure projects in the Pacific. The legislative changes also allow Export Finance Australia to assist the operations of the AIFFP by managing AIFFP loans for infrastructure projects that meet development objectives in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.
Export Finance Australia submitted it plays a critical role in supporting Australian export trade by ‘…providing finance to support viable exporters, companies seeking to invest overseas and overseas infrastructure development when financing from the banking market is unavailable’.
EFA is now supporting a broader range of infrastructure development projects in the Pacific region. EFA can assist the operations of the AIFFP by managing AIFFP loans for infrastructure projects that meet development objectives in Pacific island countries.
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
The mission of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is to achieve ‘…more productive and sustainable agricultural systems, for the benefit of developing countries and Australia, through international agricultural research partnerships’.
All countries in the Indo-Pacific region are grappling with the complex, intersecting challenges of how to grow more and healthier food and reduce poverty, using less land, water, energy and fewer nutrients per unit of output, in changing climates. For the past 37 years ACIAR has made (and is continuing to make) significant contributions to meeting these challenges by working with partner countries. Its partnership model ensures that partner countries have input into and ownership of research priorities and the delivery of research programs.
DFAT outlined that food security means having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
For some countries (and regions within countries), food security comes substantially from locally-grown or home-grown food. Other countries and regions within countries are highly dependent on national and international food trade.
Trade is essential for ensuring food security in the Pacific region
Food security within the Pacific region is threatened according to ACIAR by increasing vulnerability to economic shocks (such as abrupt changes in food and fuel prices) and natural shocks (such as invasive pests and diseases).
These vulnerabilities have limited the development of commercially-oriented agriculture, fisheries, and forestry sectors and left many Pacific countries heavily dependent on imports of food and other commodities. For instance, the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle can result in significant yield losses of coconuts, as well as tree mortality. Coconuts are essential for food security and are also a source of cash income.
ACIAR submitted all Pacific countries are concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on food security.
…with predicted stronger periods of drought and wet weather (in some cases causing destructive flooding), associated with El Niño cycles. Some models predict that cyclones may become more severe, even though fewer in number.
ACIAR highlighted the vulnerability of the Pacific island countries is increased by their narrow resource base which implies the economic dependence of many islands on exports of a single commodity or limited range of commodities.
For much of the twentieth century, many Pacific island economies were heavily dependent on copra as their principal source of export income; however, with the falling value of coconut oil, this previous source of wealth has become a poverty trap for many communities and countries that lack the resources to diversify into higher value products (which could support the rejuvenation of the industry) or into other higher value crops and commodities.
Some Pacific countries are heavily dependent on marine resources, according to the ACIAR, especially tuna, for their export earnings.
In this case significant vulnerability arises from the limited control that each country has over the management of fish resources. An emerging threat is that rising sea temperatures, especially when accentuated by El Niño cycles, may affect the migration of some tuna species, potentially taking fish populations out of the waters of Pacific island countries that depend heavily on them economically.
The ACIAR believed local, regional and international trade systems and connectivity can provide a buffer to these food security vulnerabilities of the region but these systems also expose Pacific islanders to more unhealthy food options too.
While under-nutrition remains a severe problem in some poorer, rural areas of Pacific countries, changes in diets and lifestyles associated with increasing incomes and urbanization have led to Pacific countries having experiencing an epidemic of non-communicable diseases with some of the highest levels of obesity in the world, along with record levels of Type II diabetes and heart disease.
Supporting Pacific interests in global forums
DFAT submitted that Australia supports a number of multilateral aid for trade programs, bringing global expertise to address priority issues on trade in the Pacific, including through the World Bank, Enhanced Integrated Framework and the World Trade Organization Standards and Trade and Development Facility (STDF).
These cover areas of direct interest to the Pacific including support for trade facilitation, trade development and mainstreaming, sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment submitted it also advocating for Pacific island countries within multilateral forums including agricultural and food standard setting bodies.
Australia’s representation on these forums provides an opportunity for Pacific island countries to have access to evolving international standards and provide feedback on a regional basis.
Within the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the Agriculture Department engages in the Asia, Pacific Plant Protection Commission (APPPC), and the Pacific Plant Protection Organisation (PPPO).
The PPPO is the coordination point for plant protection issues and development of regional plant health standards.
Australia can also contribute to supporting greater trade and investment with Pacific island countries as a member of the Codex Coordinating Committee for North America and the South West Pacific (CCNASWP).
The role of CCNASWP includes defining problems and needs of the region concerning food standards and food control, developing regional standards for food products and exercising a general coordination role for the region in the context of Codex activities.
Case study of the Enhanced Integrated Framework
The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) is a global aid for trade partnership comprising 24 donors, 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and 8 global agencies, providing coordinated funding and trade related capacity building support to LDCs across Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
The EIF aims to support LDCs to use trade as a tool for inclusive and sustainable development. In the Pacific, support is being provided to Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati.
After Cyclone Pam, additional funds were leveraged to support a tourism project in Vanuatu, which has helped to transform the Port Vila seafront into a functional, safe and attractive area, contributing to an increase in tourism arrivals, job creation and reduced urban poverty. As key players in the tourism sector, women have been the main beneficiaries of the project, including 11,000 women working in the handicrafts sector, traders and owners of businesses linked to tourism in Vanuatu.
In Samoa, EIF supported scaled-up collaboration between the largest state-owned agricultural producer, trade associations and women’s cooperatives, in order to add value to cocoa and coconut destined for export. Emphasis was placed on enhancing private sector participation and manufacturing linkages, which resulted in the ‘Buy Samoa Made’ initiative and new high value export markets for coconut oil and cocoa.
Pacific representation on the World Trade Organization
Australia has demonstrated strong support for Pacific engagement at the WTO, according to DFAT.
We have provided funding for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) Office in Geneva and Pacific Trade Invest (PTI Europe) to enable Pacific island countries to better participate in and influence WTO negotiations and rulemaking. It also enables direct Pacific insights and reporting back to capitals to inform national policy and investment decisions. Australia’s support assists Pacific island countries, individually and collectively, to access aid for trade resources from multilateral partners.
Growing the digital economy in the Pacific
The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and its agencies have been assisting the Pacific region with the adoption of digital technologies. The portfolio’s digital engagement with the Pacific is currently centred on technologies in the space and earth observations sectors, led by CSIRO and Geoscience Australia.
The outcome of these digital initiatives enable Pacific islands to better manage natural resources, food security, energy, transport, and urban development and to build economic and community resilience against natural shocks including disasters and climate change impacts.
DISER outlined the ‘…economic implications of greater use of earth observation technologies for the Pacific are significant’.
An Australian Government led APEC study found that the 2019 value of earth and marine observing to APEC forum economies is estimated conservatively at US$372 billion, predicted to grow to US$1.35 trillion by 2030. While only PNG (out of the Pacific island countries) was included within the study’s scope, it provides a useful example of the benefits that these technologies can have in applying to scenarios across the Pacific.
Earth and marine observing contributed millions to PNG economy
Earth and marine observing (EMO) is estimated to have contributed US$36 million to the PNG economy in 2019, according to DISER, and this is expected to increase to US$108 million by 2030. As shown in Figure 7.1, access to EMO such as weather services has value to PNG worth the equivalent of 0.15 per cent of GDP.
PNG derives the greatest value from earth and marine technology from consumer willingness to pay for applications such as those providing access to weather services. The remaining value of earth and marine observing to the PNG economy comes largely from its contribution to the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries, while also benefiting the mining sector.
The department would welcome the opportunity of further collaboration with the Pacific region to help with the implementation of these technologies.
PNG’s exposure to natural disasters presents an area for greater collaboration and the realisation of future value of these technologies. The study found that PNG is positioned to increase the value realised from earth and marine observing technologies over the coming decade. Natural disaster management and other industries (such as transport and agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and mining) present an opportunity for targeted investment.
Figure 7.1: Economic value of earth and marine observing to Papua New Guinea
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Submission 22, p. 12.
Developing linkages between veterans and Timor-Leste
Veterans Care Association is an ex-service registered charity organisation based in Brisbane that aims to reduce the instance of veteran suicide and improve the wellbeing of veterans and their families. VCA, who provide pastoral care, psychosocial rehabilitation, welfare, education, self-responsibility and social enterprise, have been running their flagship program, Timor Awakening since 2016 that strengthen links with Timor-Leste.
Timor Awakening (TA) is an immersive, evidence-based, peer to peer wellbeing program for veterans; composing holistic health education, group therapy, mentoring, physical activity, historical commemoration and community development. The program is centred around an 11-day immersion in Timor-Leste. The TA program has a focus to utilise and promote local industry in Timor-Leste, and across three programs per year contribute approximately $200,000 to local economies.
The Veterans Care Association wants the Australian Government to harness the Australian veteran community to engage in more projects in Timor-Leste.
Australia has thousands of veterans with mental health illness who would benefit from programs such as Timor Awakening and have skills to offer that can be put to work in community development projects. Timor-Leste is a proven place of sanctuary and healing for Australian veterans. The Australian veteran community is highly respected in Timor-Leste at all levels, across all sectors. Able bodied veterans can also contribute with many throughout the Australian business community having personal connection with Timor-Leste. Australian veterans have strong association with the Timor-Leste veteran community who are powerful enablers in the country, organised at national, regional and local levels to act in community development.
The Australian Government should invests in providing wider access to English language programs and initiatives in Timor-Leste, especially to the rural poor, according to the Veterans Care Association.
The more Timorese that speak English, the better trade and employment opportunities exist, in Timor-Leste and the Australian labour market, especially the seasonal worker program. Breaking the cycle of poverty, through work opportunity is the best way to empower an emerging country, building resilience against conflict and promoting conditions for stability and effective trade.
Private donations from the Australian veteran community have generated approximately AU$180,000, according to the VCA, enabling significant infrastructure for building a English language school in Betano and two years salaries for teachers.
English is recognised in the young population as a key international language, though there is competition in relation to programs being provided in countries with other languages. Very little has been done by the Australian government to support English language training. Australian veterans are currently building an English language school in the rural province of Betano…Australian veterans have been requested far and wide from Timorese veterans and the community to support efforts in teaching English.
The VCA believed the Australian Government should play a more active role in raising the profile of historical commemoration in Timor-Leste.
Brand ANZAC Day in Timor-Leste a major national event for the Australian public, Australian veterans, Australian media, Australian defence and government officials. Raise the profile of the Timor-Leste story in Australia.
Danielle Heinecke, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Operations and Development, DFAT, reiterated the importance of Timor-Leste to Australia and the Pacific.
The other thing that’s really important is that with Timor, while it is not part of the Pacific Islands Forum, a lot of our step-up measures do engage with Timor-Leste.