Remarks by the Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Mr. Shaheen Ali at Annual General Meeting of the Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Fiji

“Impediments faced for Exports for Fiji”

Chairman of Customers Brokers and Forwarders Council of Fiji, Mr. Vinesh Chandra;

Vice President Mr. Mahendra Singh;

Secretary Mr. Ronald Dass;

Officials and Members of the Council;

Ladies and Gentlemen

Bula Vinaka and Good morning

It is my pleasure to be present, on this occasion of the 9th National AGM of Customs Brokers & Forwarders Council of Fiji, on behalf the Attorney-General and Minister and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

The Customs Brokers & Forwarders Council of Fiji and its members are important stakeholders of the Ministry, as we have the same objective, which is part of today’s theme - removing impediments to exports.

The Ministry and the Council share the same principles, which is to promote trade and increase our integration and engagement with our overseas partners.  This is in keeping with the Fijian Government’s vision of building an internationally competitive economy and positioning Fiji as a regional trading hub of the Pacific.

The work that Customs Brokers and Forwarders play in the supply chain and logistics of international trade is extremely important largely goes unrecognized, because most of the work you do is behind the scenes. You are the unsung heroes of facilitating trade.

The services you provide are highly skilled and specialized in order for you to interact and interface  (on behalf of your clients) with border agencies such as customs, biosecurity, tax agencies, in addition to, shipping companies and ports.

In order provide the vital link of facilitating the movement of goods from an exporter to the importer, you need to be proficient with; (a) customs issues such as harmonized systems, customs valuation; (b) biosecurity and SPS requirements, particularly of our partner countries and (c) minimum health, safety and quality standards and other requirements of our trading partners.

As clearing agents and forwarders you have direct impact in overcoming non-tariff barriers in our partner countries. You also have a direct impact on the cost of doing business in Fiji, as you undertake to resolve the necessary sometimes cumbersome, bureaucratic and administrative procedures and paperwork on behalf of our exporters and importers.

I, therefore, urge the Customs Brokers & Forwarders Council of Fiji to maintain the high degree of professionalism and ethics that is required for the important role you play and the trust that is placed on you by the general public and our exporters – to transship goods, using the most cost-effective and expedient  route available. As Fiji’s exports and trade grows, your skills and services will be more in demand, not only in Fiji, but around the region where these skills are lacking. (As most of you are aware, the Hon. Prime Minister is leading a Trade and Investment Mission to PNG, from 17th- 18th April, and I invite you to be part of this trade mission – to take advantage and market your services, in one of our most important regional partner countries.)

I am aware, ladies and gentlemen, to carry out your task – in terms of facilitating trade – you also need depend on your stakeholders, where I understand that there are issues that not only pose a challenge to you, but pose a challenge at a national level. The Fijian Government is acutely aware the challenges related to our infrastructure and lack of productivity and capacity with regards to our seaports and wharfs. We understand that more hours that is spent in clearing goods; the more cost is incurred by our exporters and stakeholders. We recognize that layers of fees and charges can also pose a serious impediment to trade.

I gather in this forum there will be in opportunity to discuss some of these issues. From the Government’s perspective we are committed to addressing these challenges by focusing on enhancing or improving our trade-related infrastructure and streamlining our processes. The newly formed Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) is already looking into our roads, bridges and ports that have been largely neglected over the years. The Ministry of Industry and Trade is assisting FRA in identifying aid-for-trade resources that are available from our donor countries to compliment the significant assistance that has already been committed by the Prime Minister’s 2013 budget.

To tackle these problems holistically, we also need partnership cooperation from you (the Council) and the private sector. In this regard, the Ministry of Industry and Trade will revive the National Trade Facilitation Committee, where issues and impediments relating our border and trade facilitation agencies can be addressed through dialogue and partnership.

Apart from trade facilitation issues, the Council needs to assist the Ministry in taking advantage of the trade agreements Fiji is a party to and the agreements that are under negotiations. You need to be aware of rules of market access or Rules of Origin (ROO) under trade agreements such as Melanesian Spearhead Group Trade Agreement (MSGTA) and Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) in the Pacific, and South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA), Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Schemes with our developed partners, in order to promote and utilize them. You can also advice and contribute towards making these trade arrangements work for us and for the benefit our exporters.

In furthering our partnership, we need the Customers Brokers and Forwarders Council to assist the Ministry in ensuring that goods that have been declared dangerous under the “Trade Standards and Quality Control Decree 1992” need to be stopped from entering into the commerce of Fiji. Stopping these goods at the border rather than policing them at retail level is more effective. In this regard, the Council needs to educate their clients on goods that are prohibited from trade in Fiji.

Finally, I would like to leave you with the same reassurances that the Attorney General and the Minister for Industry and Trade gave last year, that the Government is here to listen to and address your practical concerns. I am sure that the Ministry and the Council will continue work closely together to collaborate on issues and initiative to grow our exports, to grow our trade and consolidate Fiji’s position as a regional trading hub.

With those words, I look forward to constructive discussions and wish you a successful AGM.

Thank you and Vinaka