Standing in Fiji’s Colo-i-Suva Rainforest I was struck by the beauty and potential of the Pacific Islands. These extraordinary places scattered across the Pacific Ocean hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans. The mere mention of the region usually brings a smile to their faces. Seeing the Pacific firsthand, I understood the desire of so many in the United States to see these islands succeed.
Last week, I visited the South Pacific for the first time in my 25 years with the State Department and it was an eye-opening experience. I met with U.S. and Pacific Island businesses, government officials, and NGOs. I also spoke at the Pacific Island Countries-U.S. Regional Workshop on Trade, Investment, and Private Sector Development, an event co-hosted by the State Department and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. During the workshop, public and private sector representatives came together to find ways to increase trade and investment flows between the United States and the Pacific Islands.
Some of the challenges, like developing a better understanding of U.S. import standards and regulations, can be surmounted by increased information sharing and education. However, overcoming the islands’ physical remoteness will require more time and attention, in order to build the efficient supply chains needed to fully integrate their economies into the global market. This will require cooperation between the public and the private sector, as well as the leveraging of modern aviation networks and online business possibilities.
Governments can help by developing transparent, predictable and efficient regulatory regimes. Good business environments will unleash the full potential of domestic businesses and draw in international investment. Governments can also invest in infrastructure, including telecommunications, to ease market access, and they can create financial systems that support women-owned businesses and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises.
As partners in development, the private sector can invest in building networks of likeminded allies both in the Pacific Islands and in the diaspora, similar to what has been supported under the State Department-funded sustainable fisheries initiative Fish 2.0. The Pacific Islands have long championed values like environmental protection and social sustainability, and investors are taking notice. “Impact investors” look beyond just being profitable, investing in businesses to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact. Qualities like these make the Pacific Islands a premium brand in the United States, and the private sector can use this to create campaigns that connect companies to the right partners and best markets.
Companies like Fiji’s Ben’s Trading, Micronesia’s Green Banana Paper, and Vanuatu’s Heilala Vanilla show the success that entrepreneurs and the island economies can achieve with supportive business environments, smart networking, and effective marketing of the unique values and qualities of the Pacific.
We want to work with our public and private sector partners in the Pacific to create networking opportunities and the type of business environment necessary for more island entrepreneurs to succeed. Together we can add thriving businesses to the kind people and beautiful scenery already associated with the Pacific Islands.
Editor's Note: This blog is the first in a series about U.S. engagement in the Pacific Islands that will be published throughout the fall. You can follow the ongoing conversation on Twitter using #PacificPartners.