Australia will not impose any new sanctions on the interim regime but at the same time it will not change or relax its current policies and stand, according to its high commissioner to Fiji, James Batley.
In opening the Fiji Economic Update 2009 conference at the University of the South Pacific today, Batley said while the Pacific has been affected by the global financial crisis, in Fiji’s case the impact of the crisis has been magnified by the effects of political developments and by imposition of rule by decree.
Batley notes that the Pacific Forum Island Leaders will meet in Cairns, next week and one of the topics for discussion is Fiji’s participation and the new regional trade and economic integration agreement, PACER Plus.
Fiji was suspended in May from Forum events, meetings and from participating in regional cooperative initiatives spearheaded by the Forum.
Batley says Australia will welcome Fiji back as a full participant in PANCER Plus negotiations but only when concrete steps are taken to return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law.
He says Australia and Fiji have strong economic ties and as a neighbour with a significant stake in Fiji’s economy, Australia wants Fiji to fulfil its economic potential.
But Batley stated that while Australia was also interested in the Economic Update, at a time when freedom of speech is heavily restricted, it is imperative that USP fulfils its traditional role of providing a space for the free and respectful exchange of ideas and opinions, free from coercion or intimidation.