Talks on the possible renewal of a trade agreement that provides Fijian textiles, clothing and footwear with duty-free access to Australia have been welcomed by the Fijian government, which says the pact is of “vital importance” to the sector.

The scheme, which falls under the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement commonly known as SPARTECA, is set to expire at the end of 2011.

But according to Shaheen Ali, Fiji’s deputy secretary of economics and trade at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is largely responsible for sustaining Fiji's garment industry.

The sector employs 2500 workers but indirectly impacts on nearly 16,000 people, he said, adding that 90% of workers in the industry were women and in most cases the sole bread-winner.

“Through improvements to the scheme, there is potential to turn the garment industry around and increase its contribution towards Fiji’s GDP and social development,” he added.

However, an Australian delegation visiting Fiji last week suggests that despite attempts by Fiji’s industry to boost efficiency, production and innovation, it still needs to implement further reforms in order to diversify and improve its competiveness and be sustainable in the long term.

But both sides seem to agree that further improvements could be achieved through continued partnership between Fiji and Australia under the SPARTECA TCF scheme, Fiji’s Ministry of Information said.