Indian entrepreneurs can use Fiji as the launch pad for the entire Pacific region, a visiting Fijian minister said on Monday.
"If you do business in Fiji, you will be looking at the entire Pacific region and not just Australia and New Zealand," Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Kaliopate Tavola, who is leading a Fijian trade delegation to India, said at an interactive session organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) here.
"Fiji itself, with its population of 800,000 offers a huge market for Indian businesses," he said.
Ethnic Indians, most of whom are descendants of people who had gone from India in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work as indentured labour in the sugarcane plantations there, comprise around 38 percent of that Pacific nation's population.
The minister also stated his country was planning an independent trade negotiating machinery in consultation with other countries of the region, which will be similar to the one that is in place in the Caribbean. He was referring to the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) of which the countries of the Caribbean are a part.
Tavola said his country was also negotiating a trade pact with the European Union and added that, in the long run, Indian businesses can even use Fiji as a path to regions like China and the Europe.
"India is a very prominent figure not only in Fiji, but also in the entire Pacific region."
Highlighting the steps being taken to attract Indian investment in his country, the minister said: "Both our countries have agreed in principle to have a double taxation avoidance pact in place.
"Earlier we were basically looking southwards, towards New Zealand and Australia for trade relations. But now, we have a look north and a look east policy. The (Indian) subcontinent is very important for us."
Addressing the gathering, Fiji's Minister for Commerce and Industry Adi Sivia Tokadei Qoro said his country and India have been trading for over a century.
"Imports from India have accounted for approximately 1.3 percent of total Fiji imports since 2000," she said.
"Imports from 2000 to 2005 have averaged around $28.3 million, and have increased by half during the same period.
"India's assistance in terms of training and providing experts in this field will enable Fiji to take its first tentative steps in the industry," Qoro said.