FIJI has welcomed the decision of Australia and New Zealand to extend the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement (SPARTECA) Textile, Clothing and Footwear Provisions Scheme.
Under the scheme certain textiles, clothing and footwear goods made in Forum Island countries (including Fiji) will be allowed into NZ and Australia duty free though they do not meet all the provisions of SPARTECA under certain circumstances.
The scheme was extended to December 31, 2014.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said Fiji appreciated the extension of the scheme which was to a large extent sustaining Fiji's garment industry.
Ratu Inoke said the garment industry was important because it helped manage poverty levels and engendering social equality in Fiji.
He said the industry employed a large number of workers, many of whom had families to provide for.
"90 per cent of employees in the industry were women and in most cases the sole breadwinner," said Ratu Inoke.
"The industry employs 2500 workers but indirectly impacts nearly 16,000 people."
He said the scheme could largely impact on the direction in which the garment industry was heading.
"Through the scheme, there is potential to turn the garment industry around and increase its contribution towards Fiji's GDP and social development," said Ratu Inoke.
Ratu Inoke said there was more to be done locally to ensure the future of the industry.
"Fiji industry however cannot only rely on Australian or other countries' tariffs or policies for its survival ù we must increase our international competitiveness," said Ratu Inoke.
"In this regard I acknowledge the level of commitment by Fiji's industry to improve efficiency, production and innovation.
"Nonetheless, Fiji's TCF sector needs to implement further reforms in order to diversify and improve its competitiveness and be sustainable in the long-term," he added.
The extension of the scheme comes after ministry officials met a team from Australia to gather further information in relation to the review of the SPARTECA TCF scheme between Fiji and Australia which has now been renewed.