Speech by New Forum Chair Hon. Toke Talagi, Premier of Niue at Opening of 39th PIF
19TH AUGUST 2008

Honorable Dr Feleti Vaka’uta Sevele, Prime Minister of Tonga
Fellow Leaders
The Presidents of New Caledonia and French Polynesia
Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
CROP Heads and Representatives
Representatives of the Forum Observers
Chiefs, Ministers, MPs and People of Niue
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Fakaaue ke he Fakalofa noa he Atua, ha kua leveki mai e tau momoui ha tautolu ke maeke ai ke Feleveia he Aho nei. Fakalofa lahi atu ke he tau Iki mo e tau Takitaki he tau Kautu he Atu Pasifika.
Tuku atu foki e tau fakaue kia ia Hon Young Viviani ha ko e haana a loto toa mo e fakamakamaka ke tamai e Forum ke he motu nei. Pete ni e kehe kehe e tau manatu he tamataaga, ka ko e mogo nei ma Niue Fekai auloa e tau gahua ke lagaki hake e motu.

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It is a great honor and privilege for me and my people to host the 39th Pacific Islands Forum and to welcome all our visiting friends to our shores. I’m pleased that finally we are able to witness this important occasion actually take place after months of preparations. The fact that we are able to meet as planned acknowledges that all the hard work has been well worth it, and Niue has once again demonstrated that despite our own constraints and limitations, we can do this well. As Premier I’m proud that we are able to host the Forum as planned and I thank the Forum Leaders for affording us this honor.
Let me also pay tribute to everyone on Niue who has worked hard to make this happen and be the success that it already is.
In accepting the honor of assuming the Chair of the Forum, I pledge to continue the excellent work the Prime Minister of Tonga, and previous Forum Chairs have started in leading the Forum to new horizons. I thank the Honorable Prime Minister of Tonga for his stewardship in the past year as well as former Leaders for their contributions to the Forum. It seems to me they have all been quite busy, attending to the business of the Forum, in addition to their responsibilities to their own people. I hope I’ll be able to live up to that high standard.
I also join the Prime Minister of Tonga in acknowledging the fine contribution the former Secretary General, Mr Greg Urwin, made to advance the work of the Forum. I understand Mr Urwin was exemplary in his leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

During his more than four years with the Secretariat, he managed to raise the Secretariat to a new level of credibility and performance. It is sad that he has passed away but his legacy will live on.
On behalf of the Forum, I join the Prime Minister of Tonga in paying tribute to Mr Urwin for his exceptional service to the people of this region and extend to his family our sincerest condolences.
As someone who is taking up the responsibility of the Forum Chair so soon after my first election as a Leader, it will be an enormous challenge for me personally, but I fully accept the heavy responsibilities of Forum Chair. I regard it as an enormous privilege and will discharge those responsibilities to the best of my capabilities and, of course, with the support of all the Leaders.
From the brief I’ve had so far, I gather the Forum agenda always includes a large number of issues of interest requiring Leaders’ attention every year. This is hardly surprising given the developing nature of the region and our susceptibility to global geopolitical dynamics. It seems to me because of these, that the Forum is a busy entity and the role of the Chair is far beyond ceremonial.
Forum Leaders must have oversight over the key developments of the region, and therefore they must be kept current with all these developments. However, at the same time they are also responsible for the affairs of their own nations and I think they must not be unnecessarily preoccupied with Forum matters. Because of


this, the essence of delegation and priority-setting requires another look by Leaders, to engage our Ministers in decision-making and only
reserve those matters requiring high-level political consideration for the attention of the Leaders.
There may be scope for new initiatives to refine the current arrangements in order to further focus the agenda of Leaders, such as greater use of existing or new Ministerial mechanisms to oversee progress in relevant areas of the Forum’s work. I am aware that the Pacific Plan is to be reviewed in the coming year, and I look forward to working closely with Leaders and the Secretariat towards continual improvement of our regional processes. However, I am also mindful that these processes are only a means towards an end and it is the end result that will impact most on our people.
In respect of priorities, I note with interest the prominence of the four pillars of the Pacific Plan which recognize the importance of economic growth, security, sustainable development and good governance. These pillars underpin the Pacific Plan as a living document that offers regional cooperation as a means of addressing diseconomies of scale. For the smaller island states such as Niue, regional cooperation offers options beyond its own capacity.
However in order that this actually translate to productive action, the Pacific Plan must be mainstreamed into national plans. I understand some work has begun on this but a lot more remains to be done to cover all Forum Island Countries.


Still on priorities, I appreciate the attention dedicated to climate change but if the point can be reinforced, may I enjoin Leaders to act earnestly to address climate change. The challenges for the
Region is no longer a matter for research or scientific theory and modeling. The evidence is quite clear that climate change is already wreaking havoc here. Who could have believed that my own country, which is so much higher above sea level than many countries in the Pacific, could be battered by a severe cyclone the way it was in 2004. If that cyclone had struck a low-lying island, a human disaster might surely have eventuated. There are other examples and it would be irresponsible of Leaders not to act accordingly on these actual experiences. I think we shouldn’t wait until a worse human catastrophe occurs before acting and the international attention now focused on climate change presents an opportunity for the region to negotiate and secure tangible assistance for people already affected by climate change. While mitigation measures are also important, the frequency of severe cyclones and raising sea levels confirm that any meaningful responses must entail practical provisions for adaptation.
Finally, fellow Leaders, we are a region of islands separated by the vast Pacific Ocean. As we endeavor to deepen and strengthen our regional cooperation, the Pacific Ocean that has provided our sustenance and economic wellbeing, is also a costly and difficult barrier. It is necessary that reliable transport linkages are established and maintained. This will enable economic and trade cooperation to

thrive, and allow countries to benefit from tourism, fisheries and international labour schemes. More importantly, reliable transportation will reduce the cost of isolation and ensure redistribution of the benefits of regional cooperation and even globalization.
Whatever mode might best deliver reliable transport services should be determined by market requirements and commercial viability. That said it might be useful to recall that the pioneer Leaders of the Forum agreed to establish shared shipping and aviation services on the basis of multilateral ownership. Although these arrangements didn’t work out, maybe the circumstances are different now and perhaps there is an economic and commercial case to assess the merits of renewed cooperation in shipping and aviation. As I said earlier, the establishment of reliable transport linkages can elevate regional cooperation and bring our islands closer to each other. Maybe this is what will herald deeper regional cooperation for the Pacific.
As I accept with honor and humility the responsibilities of the Chair of the Forum, I would be insincere if I didn’t admit that I’m somewhat overwhelmed but excited by the challenges that lie ahead. However, I’m encouraged by the acknowledgement by the Prime Minister of Tonga that he had been supported by a capable secretariat. In anticipation of that support being extended to me as well, I thank the Acting Secretary General, Mr Feleti Teo, and his staff for ably tending to the affairs of the Secretariat over the past year,

which has ensured despite difficult times that it still remains capable of servicing the Forum and the needs of its members. I look forward to working closely with the Secretariat just as I do with the rest of my fellow Leaders.

Thank you very much, Fakaue Lahi