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Respect crucial for developing ties with Pacific nations

Published 10 Aug 2023
Isabella Hollewand


Listening with respect is the key to deepening trade and investment relationships with Pacific nations, an AIIA Queensland event has been told.

Leata Alaimoana, pictured above,  emphasised this point when addressing AIIA members and guests in Brisbane on August 8. She was appointed as Queensland’s Trade Commissioner for the Pacific in March this year.

Ms Alaimoana, who is based in the Brisbane office of Trade and Investment Queensland, detailed the aims and progress of the State Government’s 2023 Pacific Strategy. Drawing on her more than 20 years of investment industry experience, she provided insights into the importance of the Pacific relationship for Queensland businesses, and the present opportunities for strengthening these connections. At the core of her message was the need to build lasting relationships with Pacific nations, founded on mutual respect and person-to-person links.

Ms Alaimoana was keen to position Queensland as Australia’s Pacific State. Its close geographic proximity to the Pacific nations, significant Islander diaspora, and its status as home to the Torres Strait Islands, makes it uniquely positioned to forge relationships with the region. Already, Australia and the Pacific have maintained connections in areas of shared interest such as humanitarianism, education, and sport. These have been encapsulated, for example, in Australian development initiatives such as AgUnity, which has supported smallholder farmers in PNG in combating digital exclusion, and Medical Rescue, which provides air ambulance services across the Pacific. There is also a history of collaboration in areas such as logistics and marine industries, and infrastructure development.

While the Trade Commissioner emphasised the importance of maintaining these connections, she was also eager to point out that there was room for growth. Agriculture and education are two exports where volumes can be increased. Furthermore, there is a need to establish greater industry links in key areas such as advanced manufacturing, health, and renewable energy. The Pacific Strategy is focused on enhancing established connections while seeking opportunities to diversify in these areas.

The long-term success of this strategy will rely on building a lasting community with Pacific nations. Ms Alaimoana said that the Pacific Strategy was underpinned by an emphasis on sovereignty – ensuring that partnerships were mutually beneficial. A key facet of her role as Trade Commissioner is to tell the Pacific communities that they have a voice. On a practical level, this involves working with business councils to represent Pacific Island stakeholders at events such as the upcoming Papua New Guinea Investment Conference.

As part of building this community, she also emphasised the importance of people-to-people links. Key areas of shared interest such as education and sport provide opportunities to make connections. Education and training links can forge powerful institutional connections and research collaboration. Cultural exchange, such as through sports diplomacy, brings people together. This can be literal, for example, collaboration on sporting events in the Pacific can attract managing directors of multinational companies to Pacific Island Nations thereby, facilitating industry connections. It can also take the form of raising Queensland and the Pacific’s international profile. Currently, there is discussion on how Queensland’s role as host of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic games can be leveraged to the mutual benefit of Queensland and Pacific partners.