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Fiji's ambassador speaks at Rotary club meeting

November 02, 2006

Rising poverty is a major challenge facing Fiji, where more than 250,000 people, or no less than 30 percent of its population, are living in great hardship which the government and service organizations like Rotary are working hard to eradicate.

The comment was made by Fiji's ambassador to the United States, Jesoni Vitusagavulu, on Oct. 25 while he addressed a Rotary club meeting in Hagerstown. The Rotary Club of Hagerstown, which has a membership of 150 mainly business executives, invited him as guest speaker.

"This may shatter the image of Fiji in your minds - a tropical South Pacific paradise where life is largely blissful. We have that happy side but we also have an ugly side ... rising poverty," the ambassador said.

Vitusagavulu he said was grateful for the work service organizations like Rotary were doing to alleviate the hardship and supplement government's efforts.

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"We have 13 Rotary Clubs in Fiji which are doing a good job in helping to reduce hardships faced by many people in Fiji," he said.

Vitusagavulu said that while assistance provided by service organizations that supplement government poverty alleviation programs help reduce hardship, they can only be temporary solutions.

The Fiji government, he said, believes that the most effective way to eradicate poverty is to greatly grow the economy.

"Government's attention is focused on expanding the economy to eradicate poverty. An expanding economy creates much needed income opportunities for those who are poor due to unemployment and raises overall income levels," Vitusagavulu said.

He also told the meeting that efforts by government to spur economic growth by increasing exports has been greatly frustrated by the reduction in trade preferences mandated by the World Trade Organization.

"Fiji is facing export contraction to all its main export markets particularly to the U.S. due to the dismantling of trade preferences," he said.

He added that the removal of garment quotas led to a dramatic decline in garment exports to the United States, which dropped from $85 million in 2004 to $19 million in 2005.

The reduction in export, he said, is causing great hardship in Fiji.

"The contraction in exports coupled by a sharp rise in imports due largely to high fuel prices has put a lot of pressure on our financial system and has driven up interest rates to unprecedented levels. This will no doubt add to the hardships we are facing," Vitusagavulu said.

Earnings from tourism, remittances, and from new industries like movie production, call centres, and data processing centres, the ambassador said, are helping to cushion the reduction in exports.

"However they are not sufficient to offset the impact on the economy of a major contraction in exports that we are experiencing," he said.

Fiji's overseas missions he said are putting greater emphasis on economic diplomacy and to seek ways of finding new access for Fiji's exports to tackle this problem.

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