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Statement by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at FEMM 08
REMARKS BY TUILOMA NERONI SLADE
SECRETARY GENERAL, PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT
AT THE 12th FORUM ECONOMIC MINISTERS’ MEETING

Port Vila, Republic of Vanuatu
28 October 2008

The Hon Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu
The Hon Deputy Prime Minister of the Cook Islands and Honourable Ministers of PIF States
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Heads of Delegations
Distinguished Delegates and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen

Hon Prime Minister,

Thank you sincerely for your kind words. As this is a first occasion since recent events here, may I extend to you warm congratulations on your recent election as Prime Minister.

2. Visiting your country is a treat, always, and a great privilege. On behalf of all attending Ministers and participants, I thank your Excellency and your Government for the kindness and courtesy of the arrangements for this meeting of Forum Economic Ministers.

The Hon PM, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

3. We gather at a time of considerable uncertainty. Developments in the global financial system in recent weeks have been quite unprecedented and have taken their toll on the financial markets and on confidence in the markets. That the global financial crisis is still unfolding compounds the problem and difficulty in forecasting likely impacts on Forum Island Countries. But we do know from the extraordinary activities of Governments and major financial stakeholders around the world of the widespread and global nature of the crisis; and we have an appreciation from the latest forecast indications issued by the Bretton Woods institutions that there is cause for concern about the global economic situation and, for Forum Island Countries, cause for concern about impacts on the demand for our exports and services and, more seriously, for tourism.

4. It would need to be said that there is reason to be positive about the fall in oil prices, although there is likely to be continuing fluctuations in oil prices. There is also the dip in food prices over the last few months, which may slow down the high inflation rate experienced so far this year. However, it needs also to be appreciated that current oil and food prices remain at much higher levels than experienced on average in the last five years. This remains a significant concern for policy makers in our region, particularly given the reliance of Pacific Island Countries on importations, and the consequent absorption of prices which have negative macroeconomic effects, as well as household level effects.

5. But in times of crisis, there are openings and opportunities. The Prime Minister has drawn attention to the need to make capital of the opportunities that will be presented and I thank him for doing so. We need, as a region, to take charge of a challenging situation to demonstrate the resilience Forum states have shown in past crisis. We need in particular to re-assess (yesterday I heard the word re-balance) and renew commitment to sound policies and structural reforms. This would be a good opportunity to re-assert prudence and re-invigorate sound surveillance and management systems.

Honourable Ministers

6. There is significance in the adoption of ‘energy and food security’ as the theme for this year’s meeting. You will hear in the presentations on the keynote session, impacts of high global commodity prices on Forum Island Countries, and some mitigation measures being pursued. We believe the sharing of country experiences on ways of dealing with high food and fuel prices will be beneficial in helping with the policy choices for the way ahead. We expect these discussions will conclude with identification of development partner support that may be required by member countries.

7. The Secretariat will also provide a brief presentation on a proposal for regional cooperation in procurement of petroleum products, to which Forum Leaders have attached high priority, and which Leaders had referred to FEMM for further consideration. A recent meeting of experts held in Auckland in September reviewed a draft Memorandum of Agreement that could help operationalise a regional mechanism.

8. With the Pacific Plan and the Leaders’ vision of “a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity” there is now a new and clear direction for the region. It is vision that provides ambition for closer regional co-operation and the pursuit of the region’s strategic goals of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security. There cannot be a more noble reach for our regional endeavour than to ensure that “all of our [Pacific] people [are able to] lead free and worthwhile lives”.

Excellencies,

9. Allow me to say that as Economic Ministers you have a crucial role in making reality of the Leader’s Vision. The initiatives contained in the Pacific Plan, which were prioritised by FEMM in 2006, particularly in areas pertaining to economic growth and good governance, have been progressed at previous meetings, and will continue to be considered this year. Specifically, an update will be provided on the Pacific Regional Audit Initiative which aims uniformly to raise public auditing standards in the region.

10. Allow me also to suggest that the Leaders’ vision cannot be achieved by Governments alone: far better prospects are on offering, I believe, on a platform of broader partnerships. Already we can see some of these partnerships at work – and the Regional Audit Initiative, for instance, demonstrated resources being mobilised by the Asian Development Bank, AusAID, and the International Development Initiative associated with the International Association of Supreme Audit Institutions. The number of observer regional and international organisations attending this FEMM meeting and their high level of representation – and it is honour for me to extend to them salutation and our appreciation – is, surely, proclamation of their partnership concern and commitment.

11. The second session today will also provide an update of other FEMM mandated matters in-progress, with specific mention of the outcomes of the August 2008 regional workshop on economic regulation aimed at promoting good regulatory practices in Forum Island Countries.

12. This session will also afford opportunity for Ministerial discussion on temporary movement of labour, based on lessons gained from the schemes already in place, and will also identify programmes through development partner efforts to help raise the derived benefits from labour mobility schemes.

13. Included as well will be a presentation on financial sector reform and supervision with a focus on possible regional and sub-regional approaches that could help with better national outcomes.

14. So, Hon Ministers, whilst we have a fairly packed agenda, we have, based on lessons from previous meetings, provided more than usual time for greater Minister to Minister discussion and sharing of experiences. It is important that you have the space to exchange and learn from each other and to set the policy directions. With the uncertainties that lie ahead it seems clear that Government policy will be the substantive and key driver in setting clear direction and the way forward.

Honourable Prime Minister,

15. Thank you for your words of welcome and guidance for this meeting and for the time you have spent with us. May I give to you, and to Honourable Ministers, assurance of our readiness in the Forum Secretariat to provide what is necessary to carry out and implement the decisions of this meeting.

Thank you.