Fiji’s prime minister was welcomed to the New Zealand Parliament on Wednesday morning.

Sitiveni Rabuka is on his first official trip to Aotearoa since being elected in December.

At a media briefing, the New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins expressed thanks for the warm and open discussions with Rabuka.

“I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Fiji for their defence and emergency personnel assistance following Cyclone Gabrielle,” PM Hipkins said.

“We are connected by long-standing people-to-people, sporting, economic and cultural links, and through the Fijian communities who have made New Zealand their home.”

“We are connected by the depth of our cooperation across a broad range of sectors including defence, policing, health, trade and industry, education, fisheries, climate change and disaster management to name a few.

“I know that New Zealand and Fiji alongside other Pacific Island forum leaders share an ambitious vision for the social, cultural and environmental economic resilience of the region where we are strong, prosperous and secure.

“We know we are stronger when we combine our efforts ans focus on Pacific regionism and the priorities of the Blue Pacific continents,” PM Hipkins said.

In response Rabuka acknowledged the traditional owners of the land and paid respect to elders past and present.

He said his visit was to discuss ways forward for both countries, following covid-19.

“Exactly a month ago the WHO declared covid-19 over as a global health emergency. Seven million deaths later, the global economy is still recovering,” Rabuka said.

“”The people’s coalition government that I lead is serious about growing our economy and my engagement here reflects that.”

He said the Fiji government was keen to work harder to boost its export capacity to New Zealand and pleased to see bilateral relations have continued to strengthen over the years.

On Monday Rabuka met with the Fijian community in Auckland and the following night with community members in Wellington.
The official visit also comes 25 years after Rabuka last visited the country in 1998 when he was first Prime Minister.

The visit is also significant for the Fijian community as they welcomed a Prime Minister for the first time in 16 years.

Over 500 Fijians in Auckland turned up to the Mahatma Gandhi Centre to welcome Rabuka and his wife Sulueti where they were accorded a full traditional welcome ceremony.

Rabuka thanked the community for its ongoing support towards Fiji.

“You have left Fiji but continue to play an important role in Fiji. Thank you for keeping Fiji in your lives,” he told those in attendance.

Rabuka informed the community that their financial support has contributed greatly as Fiji battles its unprecedented economic crisis, with the World Bank reporting its debt levels reached 90 percent of GDP last year.

In 2022, Fiji received over FJD$1 billion (US$500 million) in remittances which prove to be a saving grace during the height of the pandemic which caused great financial restrains for Fijians.

Rabuka spoke about the successful journey of national events such as Girmit Day and the reconvening of the Great Council of Chiefs and Ratu Sukuna Day.

President of the Fiji Girmit Foundation Krish Naidu thanked Rabuka for honouring his promise to the community.

“When the Prime Minister visited us last year, we asked for a public holiday to mark the contributions of the Girmitiyas, and told us if he made government he would do that. He lived up to his words. He is an honourable man.”

Naidu added that Rabuka’s visit was extremely crucial to the Fijian community.

“We look forward to this week with the Prime Minister building the much-needed aroha, loloma, and love between Fiji and NZ, which has been lost for 16 years.” he added.

The Fijian Prime Minister returns to Fiji on Thursday.