Australia’s High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Ms. Jenny Da Rin, says the Australia-Vanuatu business relationship has room to grow and the Australia Vanuatu Business Forum and Trade Expo is a great opportunity to discuss business, investment and partnerships.

She made her comment while addressing the opening session of the 5th Australia Vanuatu Business Forum and Trade Expo at the Holiday Inn in Port Vila Tuesday.

In the address in which she covered a wide range of areas in which Australia is assisting Vanuatu, she emphasized that Australia and Vanuatu have a strong and enduring relations ship.

“Business loves stability. When governments create a stable economic environment that is conducive to business and development they create the conditions for investment and jobs.

“We’ve been here since before Independence — we first established a consulate in 1978. We work together on security issues, on regional governance, on economic development. In good times and in hard times.

“The relationship continues to grow. Australia provides the majority of Vanuatu’s tourists, foreign direct investment and aid. We’re Vanuatu’s security partner.

“I believe there is more we can do together, and to that end I am delighted that this Australia Vanuatu Business Forum is being held in Vanuatu for the first time, and that it has generated such strong support and interest from business,” High Commissioner Da Rin said.

The 5th forum was the first hosted by Vanuatu. The first four forums were all hosted by Australia.

Ms. Da Rin said the last Forum she attended was almost two years ago, and Vanuatu was reeling from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam.

“The economic costs of TC Pam were significant – before the cyclone the IMF were forecasting economic growth in 2015 at 4 per cent. The impacts of Tropical Cyclone Pam led to a contraction in GDP of 0.8 per cent according to the IMF. This is equivalent to almost 4 billion vatu or A$50 million. Vanuatu, including the economy, is now recovering — the IMF estimates growth in 2016 to have reached 4 per cent of GDP, and to increase to 4.5 per cent this year.”

The Australian High Commissioner points to some risks, but that Vanuatu’s economic prospects are now brighter and with the growth of the economy, so too grow the opportunities for new and stronger business links between Australia and Vanuatu. And that Australia is proud to have played a part in Vanuatu’s economic recovery following TC Pam.

“On top of the $15 million Australia spent on immediate relief assistance, we provided $35 million for Vanuatu’s longer-term recovery needs. Working with the Vanuatu Government, these funds have now been allocated, with the economic development of cyclone-affected areas a priority.

“2017 will be a big year for implementation of those recovery projects with contracting opportunities available for interested businesses, particularly in the construction of primary schools, health clinics and rain water harvesting systems.”

She emphasized that weakness in key infrastructure poses a direct threat to economic and business development. And that’s why long-term rehabilitation works at Bauerfield and rural airports is vital and will improve Vanuatu’s gateway to the world.

“Poor health infrastructure prolongs disease outbreaks, and leads to more regular and extended staff absences.

“Poor quality education systems can create life-long impediments to the development of a pool of job-ready people. Poor governance impedes business development and expansion, with resources not efficiently or effectively allocated.”

She added that this Forum was also a good opportunity to discuss ways to make the country’s businesses more resilient and manage risks. With Vanuatu prone to natural disasters and climate change, it is important for government, NGOs, the community and business to work together to manage those risks, including through planning, coordination and risk resilience measures to reduce the impact of natural disasters and speed up recovery and we are supporting those efforts through technical assistance and funding.

She said she mentioned these risks, not to dampen the mood, but rather to encourage vigilance against them.

“Smart businesses can utilise Vanuatu’s young and increasingly skilled workforce, Australian and others countries’ direct investment and reductions in barriers to trade to capitalise on global and regional developments, find niche markets to grow their products and expand links and supply chains with neighbouring islands and countries.

“I urge you all to treat this Forum as the start of a new conversation about how to drive stronger business and investment between Australia and Vanuatu,” she concluded her address.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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