Opening statement by Vanuatu PM FEMM 08
Opening Speech by
Rt. Hon Edward Nipake Natapei
Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu at Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM)
Port Vila
October 28th, 2008

Honourable Terepai Maoate,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Cook Islands
Finance Ministers of the Pacific Island Countries
Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
Heads of Delegations
Representatives of Regional and International Organizations
Officials of the FEMM
Ministers of the Vanuatu Government
Willie Jimmy Tapangararua, Former Finance Minister of Vanuatu
Distinguished Participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

Kiora, Talofa, Nisam Bula, Good Dey, and Helo Everiwan !

I would first like to greet you on behalf of the Government and people of Vanuatu to the 2008 Forum Economic Ministers Meeting. We are deeply honoured by the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Finance Ministers of the Pacific Island Forum, Excellencies and Representatives of both multilateral and bilateral organizations at our gathering today.

May I also take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade on his recent appointment as the new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. I believe that the wealth of experience you have gained working around the region and in international institutions will certainly add value to your leadership of this regional organization, especially at a time when we endeavour to traverse a vast ocean of global challenges. We look forward to working closely with you.

On a more compassionate note, I wish to pay a special tribute to former Secretary General, Late Greg Urwin, who sadly passed away a few months ago. The Government and people of Vanuatu are deeply sorry for the passing of a grand diplomat who once served as Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu in the 1980s.

As a gesture of respect, may I ask every one of us to kindly rise up to join me in a minute of silence in remembrance of this great friend, diplomat, and ambassador; Late Greg Urwin.

I note with great interest some very important issues on the agenda of this Meeting. I do not wish to hold up proceedings unduly. Nonetheless, I would like to make some brief comments on approaches to development in our region.

This region is diverse: in people, in cultures, in economies, and in levels of economic welfare. The development agenda before us are also diverse.

Whilst we continue to debate and dialogue policy choices, some facts are clearly right before us and these pose immediate challenges to our region – much of which are largely necessitated by today’s increasingly globalised markets. For a start, the set of pressures due to high commodity prices and global growth slowdown due to the financial market crisis has immense bearing on the prosperity of the region. Some of you have already taken definitive steps to adapt your structures and processes in response, recognising also that globalisation brings with it both opportunities and also challenges. The theme of FEMM is very relevant, and your sharing of experiences on food and energy security matters will help better understand our policy choices. FEMM, after all, has worked on the ethos of collective responsibility. Our shared persistence in trying to make the best use of the opportunities presented by it, in a way that the benefit of the people of the region, seems to me the only way to go.
In saying this, it also seems necessary to mention that we need to make every effort to define what is best and appropriate in the Pacific context. In other words, we need to keep sight of internationally accepted best practice, on the one hand, and local circumstances on the other. In this regard, region and sub-regional approaches have a place, as correctly pointed out by Forum Leaders. However, proper grounding of such complex issues, will help leveraging higher levels of gain through the effective mobilization of regional and sub-regional initiatives. Initiatives, which I hope, can be designed to overcome our regions structural constraints due to smallness, and diseconomies of isolation and scale.

The Pacific Plan makes a significant contribution to helping the region improve in areas of our strategic goals of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security. It promotes and protects cultural identity but at the same time looks to strengthen regional cooperation and integration. This provides a useful regional context: we can take collective action where we will all benefit from doing so, but at the same time, determine our own national goals and priorities and work towards them.

What we must be careful of is that our regional forums and planning do not become a substitute for action. I believe a development agenda based around the Pacific Plan priorities is a sensible tool for keeping us focused on outcomes. In this context, I am also pleased to note that the economic aspects of the Pacific Plan, in particular, have found a ‘home’ in FEMM and these issues again will be topics of debate and action again at your meetings here. There are challenging issues on your meeting agenda like labour mobility, economic regulation, financial sector supervision and regional audit service, which require your bold, innovative, and strategic wisdom in considering these matters. They all require vision – a vision aligned to that laid by the Forum Leaders for the benefit of our regions peoples. I urge you, Economic Ministers, to share in this vision and make some difficult, ‘beyond the box’ decisions today for the common benefit of the region. We are only stronger as a region, if we work together, as one region – and the Pacific Plan provides the legitimate basis for this in order to build towards the Leaders vision for our region.

Given the diversity of audience in this meeting, I wish to say a few words on the issue of aid as an important element of our development endeavours.

As a region, we continue to enjoy an increase in foreign aid flows, a sign that the strong relationships we have established with our respective multilateral and bilateral partners are tangible ones. Most of the Forum countries have confirmed their commitments to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness—which is but a signpost of how both the donors and recipients can effectively address the issue of aid delivery.

It is heartening to note that unprecedented changes are beginning to take effect with certain development partners moving away from the traditional modalities. For instance, in Vanuatu, the oft-mentioned ambiguity about the aid modality being a ‘one-way-street’ is slowly unwinding towards direct budgetary support and infrastructure.

Nevertheless, to be able to attain certain level of aid effectiveness, or to be ‘Paris compliant’, both our countries and donors should continue to pursue joint effective aid modality strategies in order to lower the aid effectiveness ‘gap’, including resort to using the local expertise, local enterprises, and resources as much as possible.

Honorable Ministers,
Besides the many fruitful decisions FEMM has taken in the past, I wish to applaud your work in supporting labor mobility, which today stands among some of the most successful stories of the region. As one of the participating countries in the scheme, Vanuatu ’s case has thus far registered a success and I am told a presentation on this lesson will later be portrayed during the meetings.

I also wish to convey the Vanuatu Government’s appreciation to the Forum Secretariat who have provided invaluable support and funding towards the organization of this meeting.

As a friendly reminder, your stay in Port Vila will never be remembered if you have not taken a shell of kava or tried our tender beef. I recommend that you take a few minutes after the meetings to visit the kava ‘nakamals’ and the restaurant to refresh from the tight schedules of the meetings.

Honorable Ministers,
Let me conclude by offering my very best wishes to you all, that the fruitful outcomes of our exciting encounter, the decisions taken here, the consultations made, and the ideas put forward.

With these few words, I now have pleasure to declare the 2008 Forum Economic Ministers Meeting officially open.

Thank you.