Abu Dhabi: Fiji, a pacific island nation, has opened its first embassy in the Middle East.
The nation hopes its new diplomatic ties with the UAE may boost its agriculture sector, as well as provide a gateway to the Middle East.
Fiji Prime Minister Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama is arriving in the UAE for a five day visit on Saturday afternoon to open the country’s first embassy in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi which will be held on Sunday morning.
Fiji media reports said the Prime Minister avoided the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) summit in Tehran to inaugurate the embassy in Abu Dhabi, showing the political importance the island nation attaches to the UAE.
“If we get the right flight connectivity to the UAE, we can export fresh fruits and vegetables to the UAE,” Robin Nair, Fijian Ambassador to the UAE said.
The UAE has invested in agricultural sectors in foreign countries to ensure food security and Fiji will seek such investments to improve its agriculture sector, Nair said.
Asked whether Fiji permits Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in agriculture, he said foreign investors can enter the agriculture sector in partnership with local farmers.
At the moment there is no direct flight between both countries. Fiji is connected through Sydney in Australia by a 14-hour flight from the UAE.
Several airlines connect Sydney to Fiji by a 3.5 hour flight, Nair said.
The UAE’s two prominent airlines — Etihad and Emirates — already have flights to the pacific region which can easily be extended to Fiji.
Still, Fiji is not keen to negotiate an open-sky agreement with the UAE, the ambassador said. “We would like to improve our own airlines. As a small island nation, we don’t want much dependence on foreign airlines which may pull out any time,” he explained.
Hundreds of Fijian troops and policemen have served in the Middle East and North Africa since 1978 as part of UN peace keeping missions and mutual agreements, Nair said.
Fijian troops also worked in South Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq and policemen have worked in Sudan, he said.
About 227 Fijians are living in the UAE and most of them are working in the aviation and health sectors.
Fiji and the UAE successfully concluded negotiations last month on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income. The agreement is expected to be signed during the Prime Minister’s visit.
Nair said the agreement will help businesses in both countries initiate mutual trade.
The relations with the UAE are expected to give Fiji more links with the international community.
UAE officials have already invited Fiji representatives to attend the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) workshop, which will be held in Dubai in December this year, Nair said.
The UAE has also committed to inviting them to attend the Global Forum, which will be held in Dubai later in the year, he said.