NZ Samoa Trade Commissioner reflects on a successful 6-year term

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand has a well-established and successful working relationship with the Samoa Trade & Investment Commission based in Auckland.  Pacific Periscope interviewed Fonoti Dr Lafitai Fuatai’s just before his term as the Samoa Trade Commissioner in New Zealand comes to an end on March 22, 2018.  It was a busy and productive years said Fonoti, reflecting on his time in Auckland.

Fonoti Dr Lafitai Fuatai finishes his term as the Trade Commissioner of the NZ Samoa Trade & Investment Commission later this month.

“It will be a feeling of satisfaction having achieved all that my predecessor (Dr Pa’o Luteru) mapped out in terms of projects and jobs to be completed from his time and then having gone beyond that to be where it is currently,” he said.

The list of achievements during his watch in Auckland is long.   But before taking up the post of Samoa Trade Commissioner in 2012, Fonoti had an established education background.

“When I was invited to take this job, I had been a teacher all my life. It was about coming out of my comfort zone and working in totally unfamiliar surroundings,” he said.

“I was briefed in Samoa by CEO MFAT and then of course in Auckland the week or so of familiarisation visits and meetings where Pa’o took me around and to meet with the Fale o Samoa project personnel. It gave me enough time to absorb what I needed to do in moving forward.”

Some of the highlights from his term included the Samoa Invest Conference (Sept 20-21, 2012).

Dr Fonoti with wife Afamasaga Dr Karoline Afamasaga-Fuatai. She is the CEO of the Ministry of Education, Sports & Culture in Samoa.

“It was very challenging but with the brains in NZ STIC, we pulled it all together,” said Fonoti.

Another highlight was the Samoa Trade Expo at the Mangere Arts Centre on Nov 14 – 16, 2013 which involved 29 companies coming from Samoa under the umbrella of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters (SAME). This came about as a result of the 2012 InvestSamoa Conference.

The Samoa Exhibit Expo in 2014 in the city had eight companies from SAME who came to exhibit their products. This resulted in glass display cabinets with special lighting showcasing Samoa made products installed in the Consular office. The Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS) also asked to set up their own display cabinet in 2017.

More companies were interested in coming to New Zealand, so a few came to the Pasifika Festival in 2015.

In 2015, another significant milestone was achieved.  The Double Tax Agreement (DTA) between NZ and Samoa was signed by the two Prime Ministers the before day the All Blacks played Manu Samoa on May 8.   The Double Tax Agreement was initiated by NZSTIC to the Government of Samoa.  NZSTIC also had two successful business missions to Samoa in 2016 and 2017.

The idea of involving builders in the Christchurch rebuild also came from NZSTIC.   In 2014 before the Samoan Prime Minister came for his New Zealand State visit. Fonoti passed on a recommendation from NZSTIC asking for Samoan workers to come and work in the Christchurch rebuild.  It was accepted by the New Zealand Government and was finally actioned in 2016, not only for Samoa workers but included Fijian and Tongan as well.  Ten Samoan builders also came on the pilot scheme.

Another achievement included supervising the building of the Consul General’s residence in 2013 while at the same time starting on the new Consulate premises project at Mangere.  The Fale o Samoa structure was located on the corner of Bader Drive and Mascot Avenue replacing the previous Consulate on Auckland’s Karangahape Road.

It was a big undertaking assisting architects come up with a suitable design for the premises adjacent to the Mangere Town Centre.  The multi-million-dollar project was a traditional Samoan fale (meeting house) and separate office complex providing the Mangere Town Centre with a new land mark.

The doors to the Fale o Samoa officially opened on August 1, 2016 at the hands of Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi.  Their  hard work paid off when the Fale o Samoa won the New Zealand Wood Resene Timber Design Award in 2017 for innovative use of wood or wood panel as a significant design feature.

Fonoti was an integral part facilitating the pathway of taro into NZ through companies like Fresh Direct, Mellow Foods and T&G.  He was assisted by PTI NZ’s Trade Development Manager Joe Fuavao which he says was very valuable to him.  He also encouraged Samoan agricultural exporters.

Another important role was being involved with the Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) programme.

“I worked in tandem with the Samoa Liaison Officer based in Hawkes Bay.   I was at the port of entry and I make sure all workers don’t get lost and get to their RSE work stations around NZ once they clear Immigration, he said.    Fonoti had to ensure all forcibly returned workers on disciplinary grounds made it on the plane to return home.

Fonoti was also instrumental in getting Samoa’s frozen like taro, breadfruit, taamu, fa’i Samoa (plantain) and yam into the New Zealand market.  At the launch of the frozen taro into New Zealand, the Minister of Agriculture Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt underlined the importance of the Buy Samoa campaign asking Samoans around the world to support their efforts by buying their home-grown taro and fresh produce.

Yet another initiative came about after a meeting with business entrepreneur Fiti Leung Wai at the PTI NZ office.  Mrs Leung Wai had won the Prime Minister (NZ Fellowship Award in 2015.  The discussions led to the opening of the Sei Oriana retail outlet in the Fale o Samoa complex under Mrs Leung Wai’s company SSAB (Samoa Stationary and Books).  The brand was well established in Samoa but opening the new SSAB branch in Auckland meant there was a retailer for Samoan and Pacific Made products.

“SSAB is doing very well at the Fale o Samoa under the leadership of Fiti Leung Wai.

His working relationship with PTI NZ was very cordial and friendly he said.

“The future (for Samoa Trade) looks promising. We need more determined entrepreneurs with vision to ensure sustainability for Samoa trade in New Zealand.”

Fonoti sumed up the 2017 Trade Mission and making the most of opportunities at hand with a quote from Brutus in Julius Ceasar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat…

Fonoti is returning to Samoa on completion of his term to attend to family matters and to support his wife Afamasaga Dr Karoline Afamasaga-Fuatai in her role as the CEO of the Ministry of Education, Sports & Culture in Samoa.

In concluding he said, “Thank you and all the best for the PTI team in future.”

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