Private sector calls for regional action on COVID-19
Though many Pacific Island countries have so far been spared a major health disaster, COVID-19 hasn’t been forgiving on the economies of the region.
Chair of Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation, Stephen Lyon, says it is disappointing that governments – including Pacific governments – are increasingly turning inwards and becoming more nationally-focused rather than working together to find a joint path to recovery from COVID-19.
“Economics, of course, is a regional and international matter. We don’t have an economy if we do not have international trade,” he said.
In a meeting with pacific journalists in Fij, Mr Lyon, who is from the Cook Islands, says he believes it is possible to open some borders without endangering health.
And he expressed disappointment at the lack of priority Australia and New Zealand have placed on requests for opening up borders for trade and tourism with the Pacific.
“While [this trade] is not a do or die situation for the New Zealand and Australia economies, it provides absolute lifeline funding for many families in the Pacific,” Mr Lyon said.
“[It is] ignoring humanitarian issues when you start looking inwards … you really do damage those broader international relationships.
“Through the last 10 to 20 years our developing partners, Australia and New Zealand, have been right with us in making sure that the Pacific is supported and that we have a drive of regionalism.”
Alisi Tuqa, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation in Fiji, says 70 to 80 percent of businesses in the Pacific region are micro, small or medium enterprises.
“[Regional borders and trade] do affect us in a big way, we are all quite interdependent,” she said.
President of the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation, Sandeep Chauhan, is in agreement with Mr Lyon and says countries cannot wait at this time of economic crisis. He says they need to ‘think outside the box’.
“We cannot sit around and hope that a vaccine [for COVID-19] is going to be available and everything is going to go back to normal,” he said.
“Whilst we are worried about the health aspect of the people and the virus, I also hope the economic inactivity doesn’t kill us.”