The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Chair, Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare has welcomed Fiji’s signing of the new Melanesian Free Trade Agreement (MFTA) in Suva, Fiji, today.

The signing of the MFTA by Prime Minister Hon Frank Bainimarama was presided over by the Director General of the MSG Secretariat, Ambassador Amena Yauvoli and was witnessed by the MSG Chair, Fiji’s Minister for Trade and Tourism, Hon Faiyaz Koya, Fiji Government officials and Heads of Foreign Diplomatic Missions in Fiji.

The signing ceremony held at the Prime Minister’s Office immediately followed the conclusion of Prime Minister Sogavare’s MSG Capitals’ Visit consultation with his Fiji counterpart. The MSG Chair will be issuing a statement on the MSG Capitals’ tour consultation after his consultation with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea which has been rescheduled for next month (February).

The MSG Chair described Fiji’s signing of the new MFTA as ‘yet another milestone occassion’ of the Melanesian sub-regional grouping.

He said Fiji is the second MSG member country to sign the new agreement. Solomon Islands which signed the MFTA in November 2016 was the first country to do so.

“Fiji is a key player under the MFTA and therefore its signing of the new MFTA will give effect towards its coming into force when two or more parties are able to also sign and ratify the treaty and deposit their instruments of ratification with the MSG Secretariat,” the MSG Chair said.

On that note, he commended the Government, Private Sector and People of Fiji for being at the forefront of the MFTA by taking serious ‘leap’ steps in expediting trade with other MSG markets and in doing so have rendered benefits of choice as well as healthy and affordable products to people within the Melanesian region.

The MSG Chair also commended the Fiji Government for its contribution and support in taking the MFTA negotiations to its ‘final conclusion’ stage,’ adding that today’s signing is a solid step towards the ratification and implementation of the new agreement.

“Despite what may have been some stiff challenges during the negotiations amongst our MSG Member countries, it was evidently clear that our solidarity remained firm. Where members found difficulties during the negotiations, they took time out to revisit the legal text and made sacrifices and amends and agreed to move forward. This is unique as it is done in our own Melanesian ways.

“With the grace of God, Melanesia is growing in maturity and is serious about leveraging our economic cooperation to new heights and being consistent with the MSG 2038 Prosperity Plan for All. It is an indication of the high-level of professionalism of our trade officials through the stewardship of our good (MSG) Secretariat to engender support towards (MSG) Members achievement of economic prosperity in Melanesia in the medium to long-term,” he added.

The MSG Chair expressed ‘profound’ gratitude and appreciation to the European Union for their ‘generous’ offer of 1,750,00 Euros in supporting the MSG’s implementation of trade-related activities towards enhancing economic integration amongst MSG member countries in coherence with regional and international integration initiatives.

“I wish to extend to the EU delegation of the Pacific here in Suva, namely Ambassador Andrew Jacobs and his hardworking team, my heartfelt gratitude for offering this grant assistance to assist the implementation of some of our longstanding work programmes at the MSG Secretariat, including this new Melanesian Free Trade Agreement.”

The MSG Chair also expressed gratitude to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for ensuring technical details and preparations for the MSG-PITAP envelop which has enabled the MSG to successfully deliver on a number of key work programmes within the Trade and Investment Division of the MSG Secretariat. PITAP stands for Pacific Integration Technical Assistance Project.

“I wish to thank the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum and her capable team for the consistent effort and support towards the MSG Secretariat under the EU Project.

“This project has greatly supported our work in fulfilling the mandates of MSG Leaders in enhancing regional economic integration whilst also supporting intra-MSG Trade to grow further into the services sector through the newly concluded MFTA.”