Interview: Caleb Jarvis
What are the major challenges in securing investments for Pacific Island countries?
CALEB JARVIS: This is a time of great global investor uncertainty, a period that started with the global financial crisis and was followed by poor equity performance in various stock exchanges around the world and the continuous worsening of the European debt crisis. In Papua New Guinea there has been ongoing interest in key investment sectors, including mining and energy. ExxonMobil has invested heavily in PNG, with the liquefied natural gas project expected to sustain almost doubledigit GDP growth for many years. Outside mining and energy there is a distinct lack of sizeable investment projects, which makes it difficult for larger global institutions to identify suitable projects to invest in.
Which areas of investment offer the strongest opportunities in PNG and the wider region?
JARVIS: There exists great investment potential in multiple areas, such as mining, energy, metals, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism, leisure and retail. One sector that stands out is tourism. The key advantage in attracting investment in tourism is that it can have a significant impact on rural communities. However, attracting mass tourism will be difficult and take time, considering the country’s infrastructural constraints. Nonetheless, in the short term, there are outstanding opportunities in trekking, bird watching, scuba diving and surfing. These are unique niche opportunities targeting young, mobile and active travellers.
In agriculture, there are wide-reaching opportunities and ongoing growth for products such as coffee, coconut, cacao, oil palm and spices. Investment is already under way in the northern parts of the country that will take PNG’s agriculture sector to the next level. The global demand for protein is rising: countries like PNG have a great opportunity to invest in livestock production to meet this demand. It is also important to mention Nautilus Mining, which will make history with its first ever underwater mining project in PNG waters.
Can PNG play a greater role in regional development?
JARVIS: PNG is the largest country in the region in terms of population and wealth, and the country is undergoing unprecedented levels of growth. In the longer term, there is no reason why it should not share its knowledge and wealth to play a greater role in the development of the region. It is a question of timing: in the short term, the government’s priorities are the development and improvement of basic services such as education, health care and law, as well as the implementation of the infrastructure required to support sustainable economic growth.
Once PNG has strengthened these areas, it will have the building blocks to provide support and leadership throughout the region.
How can regional blocs such as ASEAN or the EU contribute to the region’s development?
JARVIS: The EU is providing a great deal of funding through the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and different agencies on tourism, agricultural support and economic governance. Europeans are playing a very positive role in the development of the region, and we need to ensure that this continues. More importantly, we must work closely with other donors and countries within the region in a collaborative manner to achieve greater success. If we look at ASEAN, there are certainly opportunities for its member countries to provide further support. In my opinion, ASEAN can play a stronger role in mentoring, education and training, as well as providing support to the smaller Pacific Island countries.
We need to engender an improved framework of cooperation within the Pacific and South-east Asian region that allows the free and easy movement of naturalised persons to and from the Pacific Island countries. This type of movement, whilst meeting the region’s labour needs, also provides a great opportunity to share the learning and expertise from one country to another, improving the knowledge and leadership qualities.
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