The 6th Australia-Vanuatu Business Forum focused on opportunities for private investment and what it can do for Vanuatu.
The Forum highlighted several key initiatives introduced to encourage investment into Vanuatu, including: reforms to investment legislation with a focus on promoting and facilitating investment, changes to the Trade Policy Framework, the establishment of a “single window project” for importers and exporters, as well as the “Pacific Australia Card” to make it easier for eligible applicants to visit Australia.
While there remain barriers to doing business in Vanuatu, both the Australian and Vanuatu Governments are committed to alleviating these barriers and working together to facilitate investment into the Vanuatu market.
Overview of the Forum
The 6th Australia-Vanuatu Business Forum was held on 28 February 2019 in Port Vila. With some 95 delegates and speakers from the public and private sector in attendance, it was a rare chance to discuss foreign investment, economic growth and impact investment with business and political leaders. But even rarer than that, it was a chance to “travel” to Fiji at lunch and be back in Port Vila before the lunch break was over (but more on that later)!
While statistics can show the growth of the Vanuatuan economy and deepening connection between Australia and Vanuatu, as Prime Minister Hon. Charlot Salwai surmised the forum is like a festival of private investment, and when you attend a festival you don’t just talk about statistics, you talk about the experience.
And this year’s Forum was all about experiences! Virtual reality is a key technology disrupting customer service experience the world over. It was great to see this technology in action at the Forum – special thanks to Hall Contracting for providing us with a personal demonstration of their VR technology, allowing us to visualise their dredging project in Fiji from the shores of Vanuatu.
Key highlights and what’s on the horizon
The Australian Assistant Minister, Mark Coulton reiterated the theme of closeness between Australia and Vanuatu, commending the Vanuatu Government on its ambitious policy agenda while it continues to update its Trade Policy Framework. Vanuatu signed the PACER Plus trade agreement in September 2017 but has yet to ratify this agreement.
The Assistant Minister also announced the launch of the “Vanuatu Electronic Single Window Project” which will act as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for importers and exporters, providing applications, certificates, licenses and permits.
Growth has been noted in the Vanuatu kava industry with exports booming and the Australian Government working to ease some of the limitations on the importation of kava into Australia for personal use. Vanuatu beef and agricultural crops such as coffee, cocoa and vanilla were also identified as having strong growth potential.
The draft Investment Promotion and Facilitation Bill (Bill) is expected to be tabled soon. The Bill aims to support an open policy to foreign investment, to implant a one-stop-shop service and to improve procedures for registration and monitoring of foreign investment (among other things).
Australia’s Pacific labour mobility scheme is a huge success story for Vanuatu, with small businesses in Vanuatu reaping the rewards. In 2017, for example, 85% of workers from Vanuatu participating in the seasonal workers program said they wanted to use their Australian wages to start a business in Vanuatu. Another practical improvement in the mobility is the Pacific-Australia Card, which will offer eligible applicants priority visa application processing, recognition at Australian airports and a long-term visa for travel to Australia.
Infrastructure is another sector witnessing the economic partnership between Australia and Vanuatu strengthening. Over the last decade around A$130 million has been provided in grant money to the Vanuatu Government for infrastructure and natural disaster recovery. It is expected that the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific will further improve this by giving Vanuatu a new option to finance its essential infrastructure works, such as telecommunications, energy and transport.
The 6th Australia-Vanuatu Business Forum reiterated the strength of the bilateral business which already exists between Vanuatu and Australia. The forum was also an opportunity to highlight programs such as labour mobility and infrastructure development funds which will help strengthen the economic partnership between the two countries going forward. Sustainable growth in Vanuatu will require ongoing growth in trade, and foreign investment with the private sector playing a pivotal role in this.
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