Already a new year is upon us, a time to reflect on the past and to consider our plans for 2013.
The most compelling reflections I have of Fiji for 2012 are the natural disasters that have impacted its people, particularly the floods earlier in the year and Cyclone Evan at year's end.
Australian hearts, wishes and assistance went out to the many Fijians who suffered in these disasters. These events touched many different Fiji communities, and the business community did not escape their impact. Business communities, particularly in the north and west have shown their resilience in dealing with whatever Mother Nature has thrown at them and I know they are looking eagerly to 2013 to rebuild and refresh.
For those businesses still in a rebuild phase, particularly the tourism sector, we wish them a speedy recovery and hope they are back on their "commercial feet" very soon. I have been fortunate in getting to know many members of the business community in the past twelve months, in particular members of the Fiji Australia business community.
I had the pleasure of meeting with these leaders during their annual Business Forum in Sigatoka in December last year. The theme of the Forum was "Sustainable Trade and Business: The Way Forward". You will agree a very commendable theme.
It was pleasing to note the Forum was attended by leading private and public sector representatives from Fiji and Australia, including Fiji's Attorney General Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and acting High Commissioner for Australia to Fiji Glenn Miles.
It was an excellent Forum, with robust discussions on a number of matters including tourism, agriculture, resources, manufacturing, tax and finance and further highlighted our strong bilateral trade and investment linkages.
Bilateral merchandise and services trade between Australia and Fiji was valued at $3.4billion for the 2011-12 year and Fiji continued to maintain a strong trade surplus with Australia, valued at $1.7billion. Investment is also an important element of our commercial relationship with bilateral investment valued at approximately $3.3.
I look forward to continuing to work with the wider Fiji business community in 2013 to strengthen and build on our highly valued bilateral trade and investment relationship.