The National, Thursday 18th April 2013
WHAT Europe has, a Common Market, we could have in the Pacific but for the vast expanse of ocean separating our island nations.
And of course the size of the economies of the small nations.
Still, believing in the principle of security in numbers when you are small, the Melanesian countries of PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji (part Polynesian and part Indian) in 1987 started the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
The founder prime ministers of the MSG would never have dreamt of the startling results their decision would produce in the next two decades.
From mere political talkfest and shared aspirations, MSG has become a group that encompasses trade, commerce, industry and now, free borders.
Today one can collect his or her passport, board a flight for Honiara or Port Vila or Nandi without the need for visas. Visas will be granted on arrival.
Many items traded between the countries enter tariff-free except where there is a need to protect a local industry producing the same or a similar product.
Businesses are following the governments’ lead to invest in the island nations.
Fiji and PNG being the biggest economies in the region outside of Australia and New Zealand are taking a lead in that.
PNG’s biggest commercial bank, BSP, is now a common sight all over the Fijian capital, Suva. EMTV, PNG’s only television company, is Fijian owned.
There are more.
The Mineral Resources Development Company has bought into a premier hotel resort and golf course in Fiji.
On Tuesday prime ministers Commodore Vorege Bainimarama and Peter O’Neill signed into effect the entry into PNG of Vodafone Fiji which will buy into PNG’s mobile phone company bemobile.
Bainimarama, much maligned elsewhere outside Fiji, feels most welcome in PNG which has stood resolutely beside Fiji ever since the first coup.
He takes back a pledge of K50 million from Papua New Guinea to help fund next year’s elections in Fiji which if it happens as scheduled, will restore democratic government to Fiji.
But the excitement really is in the opening of borders for the island nations.
We anticipate next the free flow of skilled labour force between the countries.
After all these years there is a lot of skilled labour that is wasted in one island nation which could be put to better use in another.
With advances in technology, physical locations no longer matter. Networking does.
With an office in Suva, another in Port Vila and another in Port Moresby, a company can operate quite smoothly – reliable communications being the key ingredient to this of course.
The long distances across the ocean which were prohibitive in the past now no longer pose a problem.
It is a welcome change and one that is going to grow over the years.
PNG’s closest neighbour Australia has singularly been obstinate with its immigration policies.
It is prohibitive to travel to or do business in Australia.
In opening up their borders, the island nations are at least expanding the horizons for their citizens and their businesses.
That is something the MSG can be proud of having achieved.