SWEET IDEA: SINGAPOREAN’S PROPOSAL COULD RE-IGNITE FIJI SUGAR INDUSTRY

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SWEET IDEA: SINGAPOREAN’S PROPOSAL COULD RE-IGNITE FIJI SUGAR INDUSTRY

By Jillian Hicks

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 4, 2002 – Sun)---Fiji’s crippled sugar industry could be revitalized if a submission by a Singaporean investor to set up at least three sugar mills in the country is approved by the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Board.

The $500 million investment, boasts of a completely new sugar industry with new milling technology, improved farming techniques and improved efficiency.

The project, which has been in the pipeline since 1996, is awaiting the approval of FTIB, which is currently in the process of evaluating the proposal.

A local representative of the company, Golden Harvest Sugar Milling and Refinery Limited, has warned, however, that the delay could mean Fiji losing out to other interested Pacific countries, which have also shown interest and have held discussions with the investor regarding this lucrative market.

The source said he could not understand why the approval process was taking so long since the submission was made to FTIB in August and the money has already been approved.

Faxes sent to the FTIB remained unanswered yesterday.

An FTIB official said since such issues were confidential and sensitive at this stage, it would take a while before a response would be deemed appropriate. According to the source, discussions have been held with the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) on the availability of land, with some already identified in the West and North.

The source stressed that the proposal has a lot to offer, such as opening avenues with other countries, a move that may see less dependence on Fiji’s current preferential system with the European Union.

An important aspect is that Indigenous-Fijian landowners would receive a lot more benefit, the source said. Apart from their leases, they would be employed as farmers and paid wages as farmers.

On whether the current employees of the three mills would be retained should the project be approved, the source said that would be an issue for stakeholders to decide, emphasizing that "some players" would obviously be disappointed.

"I understand that the Government is aware of the issue because discussions have taken place with some top Government officials.

"But sometimes the reaction at the political level is not quite matched with that at the bureaucratic level," said the source.

The source pointed out that the country needed projects of this kind to jump-start the economy, but it was sad when people "were dragging their feet."

The source added that the country needed at least two such projects every year.

For additional reports from the Fiji Sun, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Sun.

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