FIJI GARMENT INDUSTRY ON LINE IN SUVA TALKS

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 15) - The jobs of an estimated 14,000 Fijians will today be put on the line as Foreign Affairs officers negotiate with Australia over special assistance for the country’s garment industry.

Foreign Affairs chief executive Isikeli Mataitoga, who will head talks in Suva said, "First and foremost, we need to save existing employment and then look at possible ways to increase it."

Mataitoga said the talks would finalize details of an industry adjustment package for Fiji with the South Pacific Regional Trade Economic and Cooperation Agreement.

But he said Fiji would also ask for "one or two additional measures" not on the Australian list because of the importance of the issue here.

There are about 14,000 workers in the garment industry whose future depends on the talks.

Around $300million is expected to be earned from garment export this year - an amount that surpasses the dollar value of earnings from sugar.

The meeting is closed to the industry.

Textile, Clothing and Footwear Council president Mark Halabe said today’s negotiations were "definitive."

"Our customers have been waiting for this. It’s an intense period and if the meeting fails to deliver the expectations of industry and our customers, we’re looking down a major, major problem," he said.

"When you talk about the U.S. market going and the Australian market going, you’re talking about $300million (US$179.2 million) lost. You can’t salvage it. It’s gone.

Halabe said local manufacturers were hoping that Australia would allow for specific industry incentives similar to that given to Australian garment manufacturers.

"We are fighting for our survival and what we would like to see are measures that will give a short term boost to confidence in Fiji," he said.

"We are in a time when so many customers are simply moving to China. We would like to see our jobs stay here through the assistance of the Australian Government."

Among the measures the Australian Government was considering were improvements to productivity through training programs and skill development.

The industry is also asking the Australian Government to introduce industry-specific measures such as an Import Credit Scheme.

Australia this year gave its TCF industry a $750million (US$567.5 million) rescue package in order to prevent loss of jobs and to encourage more diversification to offshore production.

The Australian officials are expected to meet with industry officials in Australia next week in an attempt to come to a compromise before the end of the year.

Fiji’s TCF goods enter the Australian market duty-free under the SPARTECA but that advantage has been eroding as Australia continues to reduce tariff levels for other producers such as China.

China currently exports to Australia at 17.5 percent duty but manufacturers there also benefit from State rebates, grants, reduced utility costs and a State-trained workforce.

The jobs of an estimated 14,000 people will today be put on the line as Foreign Affairs officers negotiate with Australia over special assistance for the garment industry.

Foreign Affairs chief executive Isikeli Mataitoga, who will head talks in Suva, said "first and foremost, we need to save existing employment and then look at possible ways to increase it."

December 15, 2004

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com/

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