Spotlight on islands at Rugby World Cup

By Dev Nadkarni

What would New Zealand rugby be without its star players of Pacific Island origin? For decades now, the Pacific Islands have provided Kiwi rugby teams with a continuous stream of talent that has given them an undeniable cutting edge. This has often come at great cost to the national teams of the players’ countries of origin.

Besides, New Zealand has strong historic ties with the region and an involvement that has been long and deep enough for a United States diplomat to have publicly said that the US needed New Zealand’s eyes to view the Pacific while mapping out its geopolitical strategy in the region.

The decision to set aside resources and train the arc lights on the islands in the run up to what is billed to be the biggest ever event hosted in New Zealand, has understandably come with enthusiasm from the government. The plans it has laid out to showcase the islands go well beyond promoting them as pretty and exotic tourist destinations – for the first time they are being packaged as attractive investment options.

Rarely if ever before have the islands collectively had the opportunity to get so much of the world’s attention all in one place at one big event in the region. The Shanghai expo last year did afford the islands a similar opportunity, with a sprawling pavilion – reportedly the third biggest at the show – but that was outside the region and catered to a far more diverse audience. It is also debatable what tangible benefits the islands gained from that participation, which highlighted mainly their tourism and cultural aspects.

After months long debate on “party central” – a venue that would be a magnet for the more than 100,000 visitors (30,000 each from Europe and Australia; 5000 from South Africa; 7000 from the Americas) expected to descend on Auckland during the games held in the city, the government finally decided on a huge structure on the city’s picturesque waterfront.

An innovatively designed structure made of steel, wood and PVC in the shape of a long white cloud (which is what Aotearoa, New Zealand’s Maori name means) is in an advanced stage of completion at the city’s Queen’s Wharf. Called “The Cloud”, the 3400 square metre covered area has the capacity to comfortably hold 6000 people. The Cloud is expected to become a major hub of activity, with a full programme of events scheduled for the 45 days of the tournament.

Last month, New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully revealed plans for a “Pacifica showcase” planned around the event. A team headed by the New Zealand government co-funded Pacific Cooperation Foundation has been tasked with coordinating the programme.

Pacific Cooperation Foundation Chairman Peter Kiely revealed that The Cloud’s 443 square metre atrium, would as part of the programme, showcase cultural performances by Pacific Island artistes from across the region. Areas adjacent to the atrium will also display products and services from around the islands region, during the time allocated to the region (a range of other displays and programmes have been planned for the duration of the tournament).

This programme will coincide with two important events for the Pacific Islands. One is the fortieth annual Pacific Islands Leaders Forum, which is being held in the week of the tournament’s kick off (the opening match between the All Blacks and Tonga). It will be held in the special area set aside in The Cloud for VIP functions and events, a mezzanine area that can house some 300 people and has with full catering facilities.

The second event is the “Oceans of Opportunity” investment summit that is expected to see more than one hundred investors from New Zealand, Australia, the Asia Pacific region besides China and India.

Forum organisation Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s New Zealand and Australia offices have put together the programme for the investment summit, the second of its kind, after the successful and well attended inaugural one held last year in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

“The one day Oceans of Opportunity summit will showcase the range of opportunities available for trade and investment in the resource-rich region while helping interested investors establish the next steps toward following up on exploring their chosen investment areas,” says Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s New Zealand Trade Commissioner Adam Denniss. The summit is being held at The Cloud on September 6.

The summit brings together key senior officials, ministers and even heads of governments face to face with potential investors from all over the world. Unlike other such summits, this one is unique in that nearly all the islands’ leaders will be in Auckland at the time. “The chance to interact with key Pacific Leaders is a crucial one,” Denniss says.

“A tradeshow showcasing potential Pacific Island investment avenues will also be part of the summit, as will a publication listing and outlining a selection of the best investment projects throughout the Pacific Islands,” he adds. The offices have already compiled an exhaustive list of bankable projects for investment throughout the region. The list will be distributed to those attending the Oceans of Opportunity summit.

New Zealand government agencies as well as Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s offices in China and Japan are in various stages of coordinating participation from around the region and beyond. Minister McCully is already in the midst of a fairly extensive programme of touring the islands to discuss how best they could leverage this rare opportunity just before one of the world’s most watched sports events. He visited Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in June and will travel to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Niue this month.

The minister said this milestone fortieth Forum summit would be made even more significant because of the high attendance of global agencies and development partners for the Post Forum Dialogue, which he said would see a large contingent from the United Nations, the European Union and major nations around the world, whose senior staff would be here because of the event coinciding with the Rugby World Cup.

This is an opportunity the islands cannot afford to miss. They have long been projected as great tourist destinations but little else. This is the first time that there is a serious effort to add their investment potential. The islands as destinations to live and work more than just spend a holiday is as irresistible as a dip in the azure waters of the lagoon on a hot summer day.

First appeared in Islands Business, July 2011