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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (June 25, 1999 - PACNEWS)---New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and Governor General Sir Michael Hardie Boys have reaffirmed New Zealand’s strong commitment to strengthening bilateral relations with Fiji.

The two leaders also reaffirmed their country’s commitment to develop a stronger partnership with Fiji and other neighboring countries in the South Pacific Forum and the Pacific Islands region.

Shipley and Sir Michael made the comments while receiving Fiji’s Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who is on an official visit to New Zealand.

In his meeting with Prime Minister Shipley and her ministers, Chaudhry made strong representations on Fiji’s trade interests in New Zealand.

Chaudhry emphasized that Fiji regarded New Zealand as an important trading partner, but it was seriously concerned at the growing imbalance of trade in New Zealand’s favor.

In 1997, New Zealand exports to Fiji exceeded $FJ 168 million ($US 87.4 million), but New Zealand imports to Fiji were less than $FJ 46 million ($US 23.9 million).

"It was agreed the best way to address this trade gap was for the two Governments and the private sector, through the New Zealand/Fiji and Fiji/New Zealand Business Councils, to work closely together in specific areas where increased exports from Fiji and increased New Zealand investment in Fiji could be facilitated," a statement from Prime Minister Chaudhry’s office said.

New Zealand Ministers indicated strong support for the use of their $FJ 5 million (US$ 2.67 million) annual aid support program in enhancing Fiji’s trade and investment prospects in the New Zealand market.

The New Zealand Government announced it would send an aid mission to Fiji in August for discussions with the Government on specific areas of priority where New Zealand’s annual aid commitment is to be spent.

The Government also said it was ready under its aid program to assist Fiji in reviewing its education system, help strengthen the Fiji Government’s revenue collection system and carry out a feasibility study for a pension plan for the elderly.

It also agreed to help develop micro-enterprises and micro-businesses in Fiji, to create new opportunities for income generation and for employment of 55 percent of the population living in rural areas and outer islands.

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