Ni sa bula vinaka, na Marama kei na Turaga
Namashkaar, aap sab ka haardik swaagat hai
As salaam alaikum wa rahmatuallah wa barakatu
Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, and Adi Koila, the First Lady.
The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. My friend the Foreign Minister of Tuvalu, Mr Taukelina Finikaso. Ministers of the Government of Fiji, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Heads of UN Agencies and Regional Organisations. Ladies and Gentlemen - Friends and guests, welcome to our Queen’s Birthday Party, celebrating the 88th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.
My wife Yasmin and I would like to thank you all for joining us tonight to help us celebrate this special occasion, the more so because it is our first QBP in Fiji, 10 months since we first arrived.
The British High Commission has had a very busy year. We have been busy reviving our relationships across Fiji, renewing our links to Fijians in all walks of life. We have enhanced our dialogue with our Fijian partners, to mutual benefit. And we have been talking to everyone - in government, in business, in civil society, in the new political parties, in the media, the professions and universities, and in communities. Which is why so many more of you are here tonight.
And of course around 20,000 Britons continue to visit Fiji every year, to refresh those people-to-people ties.
Just a quick plug for our social media effort. The High Commission is busy on social media, and I have become an avid tweeter. This helps connect us to new audiences, here and across the Pacific. Whenever you want to know more detail about what we are doing, please check us out on Facebook - ukinthesouthpacific. Or follow me on Twitter - @RoddyDrummond. We try to show we are doing across 10 countries - and we will reply to your comments or questions.
Outside Suva we have been engaging in the friendly North, and the West – and I hope to get to the East soon. Wherever I have gone, I have been struck by the strong engagement of British volunteers and NGOs – because of the depth of affection that exists towards Fiji in the UK. I would salute in particular the good work of volunteers from Think Pacific, Leeds Metropolitan University and Latitude. And other universities, faith based groups and charities - like Physionet and Children of Fiji.
I am pleased to have been able to present my credentials in Nuku’alofa and Majuro, and will be travelling soon to the other countries I am accredited to. And we have been engaging with all regional organisations and UN agencies here in Suva – including attending last week’s Pacific Islands Development Forum Summit in Nadi.
The UK is working closely on a range of policy goals with Fiji and other Pacific Island partners, and our international partners. For example, we are all working to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals for the post 2015 development regime, including a specific SDG for climate change [something Pacific Island Countries (PICs) want too]. I thank our partners in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other Ministries, for their engagement and dialogue on all these issues.
Just a quick word on Climate Change. The number 1 UK priority on climate change is securing a robust global climate deal in the UNFCCC in 2015, to limit global emissions. UK is leading the charge to increase ambition, working closely with our EU partners, notably France and Germany. We are closely aligned with Fiji and the other PICs, which have a crucial role to play. I am pleased to announce that the UK Met Office has entered into a 5 year funding agreement with SPREP, worth up to £200,000 per year (so up to FJD 3 million for the entire period), for the management of three Pacific weather stations (Tarawa, Funafuti and Rarotonga) – essential for regional and global climate modelling and forecasting.
We are of course keenly interested in the forthcoming elections in September, and have provided UK specialist support to the Election Office, in addition to supporting the larger EU assistance. The UK will take part in the Multinational Observer Group which is under discussion with the Fijian authorities. I am confident that the elections will go well, and we look forward to supporting new democratic institutions and working with a democratic government after September. The UK Government certainly wants Fiji to resume its rightful seat in the Commonwealth after that.
The presence of my Defence Attache, Lieutenant-Colonel Woodman, reminds me that we have continued to provide some regional training to the Fijian Police - alongside police from our other Pacific Island partners. We are discussing further police training options this week. And we have started discussions with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces about renewing military-military cooperation after a successful democratic transition this September.
Our trade with Fiji continues to grow. Fiji’s imports from the UK last year amount to $60 million. A lot of that is aircraft-related – for example every Airbus that Fiji Airways buys includes 50% UK content. Exports from Fiji to the UK were around $70 million – most of that is sugar, since Tate & Lyle continues to support the industry and to buy all of Fiji’s exports – subject to negotiations each year over the price.
I am also glad that the EU continues its strong support for agriculture and rural development, including sugar. In that context I hope that we are close to ratification of the Interim EPA – this is an agreement that will ensure continued preferential access to the EU market for sugar, fish and other agricultural products.
I am pleased that we are investing in a Welfare Centre to benefit the thousands of Fijians who have served with the British Armed Forces and their families. My thanks to Royal British Legion Fiji and BRISFAF for their support throughout the year. And my thanks to the Minister of Defence and the Public Service Commission for their help in securing a fine building for the Welfare Centre in Domain Road, just around the corner.
I also want to mention the District of Nakelo which has a very special link to the UK, because so many of its sons and daughters have served the British Crown over many years. The Nakelo Choir will be singing the National Anthems in a few minutes.
The recent Global Summit on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict took place in London 10 days ago, co-hosted by my Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie. My sincere thanks to those who participated at the banner signing event at our High Commission, showing Fijian support – from civil society and government - for this important cause. We linked it into the Global Summit using social media.
(Looking ahead) Later this week we are bringing the Rugby World Cup to Fiji, as we start to focus on England hosting the 2015 Cup. You will see a reference to this Trophy Tour on the car in the garden – and we will be taking the Cup on a unique trip offroad across Viti Levu, and to schools and rugby clubs in different communities. It will be on display at the RWC Qualifier against the Cook Islands next Saturday in Lautoka. I hope Fiji play better than they did again Samoa at the weekend - it would fantastic to see the Flying Fijians in England next year - and their lively supporters. I loved the way that at the Rugby League World Cup, Rochdale almost became a home venue for Fiji. Perhaps we will see more of that spirit at Twickenham next year?
Chevening – UK Government Scholarships will celebrate its 30th Anniversary on 9 July. We are about to relaunch the Chevening Alumni Association – and broaden its membership to other Pacific Islanders. And following on the success of previous Chevening scholars who used their British Education to become leaders in their fields, I am pleased to say that 2 young Fijians have succeeded in this year’s competition and should start university in the UK in September.
The Glasgow Commonwealth Games will take place in July and August and I am delighted that Fijian athletes will once again participate. The Games Federation have established a unique partnership with Glasgow 2014 and UNICEF to use the power of sport to transform children’s lives across the Commonwealth. In the Pacific Islands including Fiji the Games Federation are working with Oceania Football Confederation on a development initiative called “Just Play” - to promote healthy lifestyles, gender equality and girls’ empowerment.
Yasmin and I owe a real debt of gratitude to all Suva High Commission staff for their support over the year - and for the preparations for tonight’s event. And an extra special mention goes to Asenaca Qiwa who is retiring next week after 18 years loyal service. Asenaca – we will miss you. On another sad note a former High Commissioner that some of you may recall, Mr Tim David, passed away last month.
On a more positive note, I know many of you have been asking after Major Jim Hall, who leads our British Army Support Office. Jim had a bit of a heart scare a fortnight ago. But he is recovering well, as I was able to confirm by visiting him in Wales 10 days ago. He told me he will be back in mid July, ready to take on Ratu Epeli and his other golfing partners.
Before offering you the Toast, and to give you time to charge your glasses, I must mention our sponsors. There are three, each important members of the private sector in Fiji – and they are each outstanding examples of the kind of world class British companies that I want to see more of operating in Fiji. I am hopeful that after the elections more blue chip British firms will look at investments in Fiji.
Firstly my thanks to Vodafone, the leading British telecom provider. Now the UK’s most recognisable brand, the second largest telecom company in the world, and definitely number one in Fiji. I was impressed this year to see them bring 4G to Fiji - and expand their services across the region. And I applaud their sponsorship of Fijian sport, notably rugby in all its different codes, and the many other things they do for different communities.
Secondly, Tate & Lyle, our leading cane sugar company. They have been Fiji’s main customer for decades, and this year are again offering to buy all of Fiji’s sugar exports at a fair competitive price, and are playing a key role in supporting improvements in the efficiency of the sugar industry, to make it world competitive in the long term. I also commend Tate & Lyle for their work to set up the Fair Trade scheme in Fiji, which benefits 14000 cane growers directly.
Thirdly, Land Rover. An iconic British product, the latest version of which, the stylish Range Rover Evoque, you see parked on my lawn. Many thanks to Niranjans for their door-to-door service - I am sure Bob will happily do the same for anyone here who wants to buy one. Bob, please just leave me the keys when you go tonight - and Yasmin says she wants one in red!
My thanks again to all 3 sponsors, fine examples of GREAT British businesses, innovation and world class service.
[I wanted to share one last thought with you. Yasmin and I had a private audience with Her Majesty the Queen last week, at Buckingham Palace – something granted to all new High Commissioners. It was a private audience, so I cannot divulge the details. But I will say that I was astonished by the detailed questions and genuine interest shown towards Fiji and its people by Her Majesty – someone who of course has a 61 year personal history with this place. I was put on the spot with many questions – and she will certainly be following events in September with close attention.”]
To conclude, I would ask you to join me in a Toast to the President, Government and People. I give you “the President, the Government and the People of the Republic of Fiji”.