Fiji is digitalizing trade processes, helping firms expand in new markets and hire more workers
Alina Monica Antoci
Senior Private Sector Specialist
Global Product Specialist
Maria Moi is finding it a lot easier and faster to export vegetables from Fiji these days, thanks to a new digital system in the Port of Suva. An important piece of documentation known as a cargo manifest once took three or four days to process. Now it can be done in a matter of minutes, speeding delivery of root crops to supermarket shelves as distant as Sydney and Salt Lake City, Utah, and supporting the Fiji’s farmers.
“More than 70,000 farmers rely on us to buy their crops for export,” says Moi, co-owner of Ben’s Trading, one of the country’s leading exporters of cassava, taro, and other seasonal vegetables. “Making trade easier will help us grow our business more, and most importantly, continue to support our local people.”
The new digital process is an important step forward in Fiji’s digitalization journey, which, with support from the World Bank, will streamline cumbersome manual processes and make it cheaper and faster to move goods into and out of the Port of Suva. That is expected to spur trade, especially in the agricultural products that make up 60 percent of the Fiji’s domestic exports, and drive economic growth in the island nation of 900,000 people.
For traders like Moi, making trade work better reduces costs and increases market access, making it possible to expand and hire more workers.
“We started with six workers, and today we employ more than 200,” including dozens of disadvantaged women and people with disabilities, says Moi. “We have been very much focused on the growth of the company as well as the farmers whom we work with.”
Fiji’s consumers stand to benefit as well. The new electronic cargo manifest, and other steps to follow, will give them better access to the many products that Fiji buys from abroad.
“Replacing the manual and paper-based manifest has helped speed up our day-to-day-operations,” says Arnold Singh, a customs manager at FMF Foods, a company that supplies local supermarkets with products including biscuits, flour, and rice. “It has saved us time and money.”
Fiji’s central location in the South Pacific region makes it a hub for trade between island neighbors like Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa. Steps to smooth the flow of goods across borders – known as trade facilitation – are important for small island nations in the Pacific and elsewhere that are distant from major markets and whose economies rely heavily on trade.
“We cannot produce everything on our own. We need to be driven by value proposition and efficiency,” says Shaheen Ali, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade Cooperatives, SMEs, and Communication. “So, it’s very important that trade facilitation and all the stakeholders that are connected through supply chains function efficiently.”
Paperless cargo manifests have built confidence in digitalization, but they are just a start.
Next on the country’s agenda is implementing a National Single Window. This fully electronic trade environment will improve coordination among the many public and private sector players across the supply chain – including customs, biosecurity, health inspectors, port authorities, customs agents, and shipping companies.
The project is being led by the government and the National Trade Facilitation Committee, which is composed of public and private-sector representatives.
“The National Trade Facilitation Committee is all about driving innovation,” says Mark Dixon, chief executive of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service. “It involves the whole of government and particularly our integrated agencies on the border. We really need an integrated approach to how we make trade safe and secure, but as easy as possible.”
This work was supported by the World Bank with funding from the Trade Facilitation Support Program (TFSP). The TFSP is funded by nine donor partners: Australia, Canada, the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This initiative provides assistance to countries seeking to align their trade practices with the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA).