FIJI has been praised for its role in helping to exponentially grow the area of trade and economic relations within the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
Sir Michael Somare said since Fiji joined the MSG in 1996, there had been a notable growth in trade and economic relations.
"From a mere three item list (tinned fish, tea and beef) on our trade schedule, it has now gone over a thousand tariff items; surpassing initial expectations," Sir Michael revealed.
He said: "Fiji's role in this area of success for the MSG cannot be underestimated.
"Since its admission in 1996, MSG trade and investment has exponentially grown."
However, Sir Michael stressed that now was not the time for the MSG to rest on its laurels calling instead for Fiji and PNG to assist in taking trade among member nations even further.
"The MSG goal now must be to take this co-operation to the next level.
"Fiji and Papua New Guinea must provide the spring -board for this leap forward," he stated.
"The cynicism which first met our efforts to encourage trade with each other has now been replaced with envy and awe at how successful we have been."
Sir Michael said this newfound trade volume was beneficial on many fronts.
"Trade and economic cooperation provides a vehicle for our countries' prosperity.
"It provides jobs for our people, it puts food on the table for our people and it enables our governments to provide basic health services, education and infrastructure development.
"Trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation must be undertaken with aggression by our governments and corporate citizens," he said.
He added that co-operation needed to be intensified and expanded.
The celebrations marking the MSG's 25 years of existence began yesterday at USP and continue today and tomorrow.