FTMM Opening Remarks, Hon Rasmussen
22 July 2008


Honourable Vice-President of Kiribati,
Cook Islands’ Deputy Prime Minister,
Honourable Forum Ministers responsible for Trade,
Vanuatu’s Ambassador in Brussels,
Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat,
Secretaries, Senior Officials and other distinguished participants.

Kia Orana!
On behalf of the people of Cook Islands, may I firstly extend to you all a very warm welcome to our beautiful shores. It is Cook Islands’ honour and privilege to host the 2008 Forum Trade Ministers Meeting. I hope that those of you who arrived early have been able to explore Rarotonga and experience the charm of the Cook Islands. It is my sincere hope that you enjoy your short stay in our country.

Today, we meet to discuss trade development issues for the region at a time when prices of a number of commodities and oil are soaring. While these inflationary trends are beyond our control, there is nonetheless expectation that our Governments take proactive measures to ensure that some relief is provided to the consumers to deal with the high prices.

As Ministers responsible for trade, we have to look at various options available to us. I have noted that a number of our governments have provided temporary relief by lowering the taxes on some of those basic goods. The need to retain the flexibility to be able to do so, and to have adequate policy space that allows our Governments to deal with such cases is extremely important. I am using this example of current inflationary trends to illustrate the extent to which our small economies are subject to global price movement pressures. The vulnerability of smaller economies in the current globalised world is illustrated well by the speculative price changes that we have been seeing over the past months.

Increasingly, we are subject to the global rules of trade. Whether we are a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or not, we are still indirectly subject to the WTO rules given that we trade with WTO members. Among us, we have only six WTO Members, namely Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tonga, and Samoa and Vanuatu are in the process of acceding to WTO. However, sometime in future, all sixteen of us will be talking about WTO compatible trade and economic cooperation arrangements in the context of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus.

It is extremely important that as we discuss trade liberalization and development cooperation initiatives among the Forum Member countries, we take into account the varying levels of development of our countries. Among us we have Australia and New Zealand who have a much advanced level of economic development while the remaining Forum Islands Countries (FICs) are either developing economies or Least Developed Countries, with a number of the FICs being Small Island States. Trade liberalization and economic integration initiatives among us have to take into account the differing needs of each of the Members.

Needless to say, different Members have different levels of sophistication to accommodate the economic integration initiatives, and hence may not be able to institute accompanying reforms at the same pace as others. The slow progress in the implementation of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) speaks for itself. The intention of PICTA was to assist the FICs develop capacity to be able to engage in other trade liberalization initiatives at a later stage. However, only six of the FICs have to date implemented PICTA to a stage that allows them to trade among themselves under PICTA preference.

Against this background, and despite the wishes of some of us to hold this Forum Trade Ministers Meeting in 2009, we are nonetheless meeting today to discuss a number of trade development matters, including the path ahead on PACER Plus. There is a need for close cooperation among the Forum Members in order to ensure that the broader interests of all is taken into account and that all Members, from the largest to the smallest derive optimum benefit from any PACER Plus arrangements. Undoubtedly, the FICs need support to prepare for the negotiation of any PACER Plus agreement, and I am pleased that we will discuss that today.

It is unfortunate that the Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat is not at this meeting today and I know we would all wish to acknowledge the valuable work Mr Greg Urwin has done for the region, and extend to him our best wishes for his recovery.

We have just one day to deliberate on important matters that will pave the way for future development and economic cooperation relationship in the region. Our trade officials have discussed these issues yesterday and we stand guided by their recommendations.

I wish to conclude by reiterating the importance of a cohesive approach for the development and economic cooperation arrangement that is being sought among our countries. It surely has to be beyond trade, and deal with social, cultural, environmental and other development needs of the region. The absolute need for political will and commitment to go down this path is of the essence, and I look forward to your contributions in the course of the Meeting.

I now have much pleasure in declaring the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting officially open. 

Meitaki Maata ! 

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