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Fiji: election timetable and the sparteca-TCF scheme.

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Media Release Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

12 December 2000

Fiji: Election Timetable and the SPARTECA-TCF Scheme

On 14 November, Fiji’s interim government - for the first time - made a public commitment to hold democratic elections by March 2002, rather than - as previously suggested - only after two or more years.  When the interim government was first sworn in July this year, I expressed Australia’s very deep concern at the consolidation of unconstitutional and undemocratic rule there.  That concern extended particularly to indications from some in Fiji that they attached no urgency to a return to democracy and that elections under a new constitution might be delayed for as long as three years - that is, until perhaps the middle of 2003, or later.

On 18 July, I stated publicly that, given a clear indication of a commitment to an early return to democracy on the part of the interim authorities, Australia would consider arrangements to support the adjustment of Fiji’s important garment industry to the cessation of the Import Credit Scheme (ICS).  This reflects the strong links between Australia and Fiji in the TCF sector, and the industry’s importance in Fiji as a source of employment.

The Government is following closely the implications of the Fiji High Court’s ruling of 15 November that the 1997 Constitution remains in force.  This ruling is encouraging, and fully consistent with the position Australia has taken about the illegitimacy of the 19 May coup and its consequences.  The High Court’s decision is subject to appeal and the outcome may not be known until February next year.  We hope the people of Fiji can look forward to an even earlier resumption of the benefits of democratic rule which have been denied them since May.

In the light of the commitment by the interim authorities in Suva to an earlier election date, we will now proceed to introduce a successor scheme to the ICS.  The scheme will provide additional benefits for TCF within the framework of the existing South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA), and will be entitled SPARTECA-TCF.  Continuing implementation of the scheme will be subject to Fiji’s progress in implementing the timetable for a speedy return to democratic and constitutional rule. This must include a constitutional outcome which accords with democratic norms and the principles recently enunciated by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in the Biketawa Declaration.

Media inquiries:          James Baker (Ministerial) 02 6277 7500 / 0419 206 890 Matt Francis (Departmental) 02 6261 1555


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