THE United States' decision to remove Fiji from a scheme that provides duty-free entry for many of Fiji's exports still hangs in the balance.
A delegation representing the Fijian government attended the hearing of a petition before the Generalised System of Preferences Sub-committee (GSPSC) at the United States Trade Representative Office in Washington DC yesterday.
Trade unions are petitioning to remove Fiji from the list of eligible beneficiaries of the Generalised System of Preferences over claims the government aimed to destroy the trade union movement in Fiji.
GSPSC has invited both the Fiji government and the trade unions to present post-hearing written submissions within three weeks.
The Fiji government delegation was led by the Acting Solicitor-General Sharvada Sharma and included Fiji's ambassador to US Winston Thompson, principal legal officer from the Solicitor-General's Office, Salaseini Serulagilagi, and First Secretary Ray Baleikasavu.
Mr Sharma updated the members of GSPSC on the constitutional processes that have been implemented by the government.
He said the processes include an inclusive nationwide dialogue process by an independent Constitutional Commission that will result in the promulgation of a new Constitution in early 2013 and lead to Fiji's first non-race-based democratic elections by September 2014.
Government's concern with respect to the impact of the loss of GSP to Fiji and the Fijian workers were also emphasised at the hearing.
It has said that 39 Fijian companies export Fiji's products into the US market under the GSP system. In 2011, this generated $57 million in export revenues.
The government highlighted if GSP was lost, about 15,000 workers would be laid off and this in turn would affect affect 75,000 Fijians.
The GSPSC was also updated on numerous other recent worker-related reforms in Fiji, including the implementation of substantial income tax reduction for workers, a National Employment Centre, a soon-to-be-established National Minimum Wage for Fijian workers, and a no-fault compensation scheme for injury at work.
The delegation also highlighted the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree 2011 which intends to ensure the viability of specific industries that are vital to the Fijian economy and GDP.
The government also stressed that under this decree, workers continue to have fundamental rights, including the right to organise, form unions, independently vote for representatives, bargain collectively, and develop processes to resolve employment disputes and grievances.
"The decree is not unique as its key provisions are comparable to that of the U.S. National Labour Relations Act and laws in the United Kingdom and Ireland," the government statement said.
GSPSC was also informed about the successful implementation of the Decree in essential industries where workers have freely organised, formed bargaining units, and elected representatives.
US authorities were also affirmed by the Fijian government of its commitment to a future of equality and opportunity for all Fijians.
"This includes ensuring that the rights of its working people are protected and extended. The Fijian government made this promise not only to the United Nations but also as the newly chosen Chair of the G-77 for 2013," the government statement said.