ABU DHABI // In the first official visit by a Fijian head of state to the UAE, prime minister Josaia Bainimarama will discuss with officials the possibility of expanding Emirati airline networks to circumnavigate the globe.
While here, Cdre Bainimarama will open the first Fijian embassy in the Middle East and Arab world in Abu Dhabi before holding five days of meetings with various officials.
According to the new Fijian ambassador to the UAE, Mr Robin Nair, the prime minister hopes to hold bilateral talks on a number of issues, including military cooperation, education opportunities and political ties.
“The UAE is the hub of the Middle East. Politically, the UAE is perhaps the most stable Middle East Country, including the Gulf states,” said Mr Nair.
“Opening the first diplomatic representation in the Middle East is in conformity with Fiji’s new directions in foreign policy which is to diversify and broaden international partnerships.”
The UAE’s assistant foreign minister for Economic Affairs, Mr Khalid Ghanim Al Gaith, said the UAE is keen to enter into an Open Skies agreement with Fiji, which would provide a link to countries in South America.
“This will boost the tourism sector in Fiji and increase connectivity between the two countries and subregions,” he said. “With the policy in place, the UAE intends to link Fiji to countries in South America such as Chile, Peru or even Brazil, which will be of great benefit to both Fiji and the UAE.”
Mr Nair said the Fijian government was very interested in an ‘airline’ partnership.
“We have spoken with Emirates and are also in talks with Etihad,” he said. “They are very close to circumnavigating the globe.”
Airline links would be a boon to both tourism and business in Fiji, he said.
“Fiji needs more airlines to bring tourists and business people, especially from newer markets, such as from the Middle East and Europe,” he said. “Both already fly into the region, with Emirates and Etihad flying into Australia and Emirates into New Zealand. There are possibilities of negotiating piggybacking onto these services to fly in and out of Fiji too.”
Ambassador Nair said Cmdre Bainamrama also hoped to discuss opening up visa rules between the UAE and Fiji. “We encourage reciprocally supplying visas on arrival and we want to extend that to UAE citizens,” he said.
If an agreement is reached during the prime minister’s visit next week it might take effect immediately, he said.
Many Fijians work in the UAE and the neighbouring GCC countries. “Most are professionals: in UAE alone there are 24 Fijian pilots, and there are another eight in Oman and Qatar,” he said. “There are some 50 nurses working in UAE and there are seafarers working on UAE boats as well as in other professions. Finally, there are many Fijians providing security services by working in private security service companies in the region.”
Discussions on military cooperation with the UAE will be held with Cmdre Bainamrama, with a view to introducing a defence attaché to the mission in Abu Dhabi, Mr Nair said.
The Fijian military has been in the region since 1978, participating in peacekeeping missions around the Middle East.
“There is much scope for diversifying our cooperation and military training and to find niche areas of cooperation and training of our military with the UAE Armed Forces. There is a lot of commonality in tradition between RFMF [Royal Fiji Military Forces] and UAE Armed Forces, both having been initially schooled in British traditions,” he said.
“We hope to attract a defence attaché to be posted here to look after the needs of our troops in the region and also to establish relations with the well-trained UAE armed Forces.
In the Article Published on August 28 entitled ‘Fiji seeks open-skies agreement with UAE’s airlines’ it was incorrectly reported that Prime Minister Bainamarama was arriving to discuss ‘Open Skies’.
According to Ambassador Nair: “Emirates Airline had asked for this but Fiji was not ready for Open Skies as yet. We would want our Air Pacific to be stronger before we even consider this. This is my known views since this is my Government’s view."
The article has since been amended.