The economies of the Pacific region, led by resource-rich East Timor, are projected to expand 4.3 percent this year but inflation remains a concern, driven by high fuel and utility prices, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Monday.
Excluding East Timor and Papua New Guinea, growth in the 12 Pacific islands is seen unchanged at 0.5%, while projections were downgraded for the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Vanuatu because of weaker than expected tourism growth outside the Fiji Islands.
East Timor’s growth projection last year has been changed upward from between 6 percent and 8 percent to 12.2%, led by continued increases in government expenditure and agriculture production – a result of higher yield seeds and use of fertilisers.
But like elsewhere in the region, inflation is on the rise, climbing up to 6.6 percent by June, the ADB said. The Pacific is particularly vulnerable to rising oil prices as it pays more for fuel than any other region.
“Fuel and utility prices are too high in most Pacific countries,” said Robert Wihtol, head of the ADB’s Pacific Department.
Meanwhile, Australian tourism to Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu has declined as the Fiji Islands regained its previous market share. Overall, departures from Australia to the Pacific were up by about 27 percent from January to May compared with the same months in 2009. The Fiji Islands recorded the sharpest rise at 49%.
Departures from New Zealand to the Pacific also increased by about nine percent in the first five months of the year, while Japanese tourism to Oceania and to the northern Pacific also showed some improvement after declining over the past two years.
The 14 nations include East Timor, Marshall Islands, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Palau, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, the Federated States of Micronesia and Nauru.