The Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Hon. Jeremiah Manele had a successful bilateral discussion with the Deputy Prime Minister and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs for New Zealand, Hon. Carmel Sepuloni on Monday 17th April.
During the bilateral meeting, Minister Manele acknowledge the government and people of New Zealand for the unwavering support to Solomon Islands over the years.
He said New Zealand is a Pacific neighbour and valued partner who have assisted Solomon Islands in development across many areas such as education, fisheries, aviation, labour mobility, youth empowerment, social inclusion and addressing climate change.
Minister Manele expressed his sincere gratitude to the NZ Government for the COVID-19 assistance provided (Approx. SBD $83.6 million total). New Zealand was among the first countries to respond Solomon Islands call for help while dealing with its own COVID-19 challenges domestically. The funding provided by New Zealand cushion the impacts of Covid-19, in the health sector and in other sectors as well.
Among key issues discussed, include Infrastructure and economic development partnership. Foreign Minister Manele highlighted that the Bina Harbour project is important for Solomon Islands and much progress has been made, particularly relating to acquisition of land for the project.
The Bina Harbour Tuna Processing Plant (BHTPP) Project will be the second tuna processing plant in the country and is expected to trigger economic benefits for both Malaita province and the country.
Minister Manele also acknowledged the ongoing progress made on the upgrading of provincial airstrips with regard to the airstrips on Taro (Choiseul) and Seghe (Marovo – Western Province) which is co-funded by the Solomon Islands Government, New Zealand and Australia.
The Provincial Airports Programme is a key policy deliverable by the DCGA government, and these upgrades will improve safety, compliance and all-weather operations and to support tourism.
The Solomon Islands also recognized that New Zealand has so much experience in geothermal energy and would like to see them assist us look at our energy sector as we have the highest cost of electricity anywhere in the world and only 20% of the population are connected to the grid.
Manele further highlighted Labour Mobility as a key aspect of the Solomon Islands – New Zealand partnership and that the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme is a win-win for both countries.
He said Solomon Islands has a huge labour supply and anticipate that New Zealand would remove the cap limit of workers sent to New Zealand through the RSE scheme and expand to other industries and sectors such as construction and fisheries and embrace semi and skilled workers in the RSE Program.
Minister Manele acknowledge the support provided by New Zealand as a key partner in the education sector as Solomon Islands benefited from New Zealand’s support in education infrastructure as well as tertiary scholarships.
On security, Minister Manele informed the Deputy Prime Minister that Solomon Islands remains focused on managing and addressing its domestic risks and threats. The November 2021 riots tested our law enforcement capacities, and highlighted the challenges with managing law and order. When Solomon Islands triggered the Australia – Solomon Islands Security Treaty, New Zealand stood in solidarity with the Solomon Islands, and contributed by deploying its Defence Force and Police personnel under the Treaty to address the law-and-order situation. Their contribution to the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force (SIAF) in maintaining peace and stability after the November 2021 riots.
Minister Manele stated that Solomon Islands is cognizant of the growing militarization in the region and as a party to the Rarotonga Treaty, Solomon Islands remain a nuclear free state given Pacific legacy of being testing sites of nuclear weapons, dumping grounds for nuclear waste and nuclear storage.
On Solomon Islands graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status, Minister Manele acknowledge New Zealand’s support for Solomon Islands request to extent its graduation. He mentioned, as Solomon Islands work towards graduation from LDC, it is important to be fully prepared so that once the country graduates from LDC, it is not reversible but one that is progressive and advanced for the betterment of the country as far as development is concern.
Finally, Minister Manele also raise the issue of reciprocal visa arrangements to enhance people-to-people connection and relations. Currently, New Zealanders are given visa on arrival when entering the country unlike Solomon Islanders who are traveling to New Zealand where visa is required with cost. Minister Manele stated, “over the years, we have been calling for reciprocal visa arrangements and I am making the call again and hope can make progress work on this”
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade summed up their bilateral meetings with presentation of gifts and a joint Press Conference with local and visiting New Zealand Journalists.
—MFAET PRESS RELEASE