Speech by new Forum Chair and PM of Vanuatu, Hon. Edward Natapei, MP.

Speech for Incoming Forum
Chair, Hon. Edward Nipake Natapei,
Prime Minister of Vanuatu



Distinguished Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum Member Countries;
Distinguished Leaders of Associate Members;
The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Mr. Tuiloma Neroni Slade;
Distinguished Envoys;
The Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mr Kamelesh Sharma;
Distinguished Observers;
Distinguished Guests;
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am greatly honored to stand here before you this morning on the occasion of the opening of the 41st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting to warmly welcome you all, our dear guests, on behalf of the Chiefs, the Government and the people of Vanuatu. This is an auspicious occasion for us here in Vanuatu as the opening of this important regional gathering coincides with the celebrations of 30 years of Vanuatu’s political independence. My people and I are delighted to host you and we hope your brief visit will be a memorable one.

As I accept with humility the important responsibility of Chair of the Pacific Island Forum for the next year, may I pay tribute to the leadership of Australia in the past year. In particular may I acknowledge the leadership of the former Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Kevin Rudd, in advancing the implementation of the priorities we established in Cairns last year. We thank him for his chairmanship of the Forum during which we have been able to achieve much in a short time.

I also wish to record the Forum’s appreciation to the Prime Minister of Australia, Hon Julia Gillard, who is represented here today by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Hon Stephen Smith, for ensuring a smooth transition of the chair to me leading up to the current Forum meeting.

So much has happened in our region since the last Forum meeting in Cairns last year. The global economic crisis continues to impact our economies, requiring employment of austerity measures and necessary economic reforms. Our already vulnerable economies cannot cope with persistent external shocks of this severity and it is incumbent on us Leaders to ensure our economies remain resilient.

The consequences and perils our citizens face because of the crisis are well known. While the broad sectors of our economies are suffering, the human aspects require concerted efforts by all to contain the crisis. It is this concern that motivated Leaders at our meeting last year to agree that a major regional conference on the human face of the global economic crisis should be held in the region. With the support of the UN and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Vanuatu was privileged to host this regional conference in February this year here in Port Vila.

The outcomes of the conference will be formally tabled to Leaders at our plenary session but, if I may, I would urge our cooperation in applying some of the policy options considered by that conference to be relevant for complementing policy actions already in place.

The global economic crisis is the worst of our time and one that has caused significant economic disorder in many countries. Examples of ruined economies around the globe, remind us that we just cannot afford to be complacent anymore here in the Pacific. Whatever we can do collectively or individually to contain the crisis is encouraged, but we need to be proactive and build on the optimism for recovery, led by examples of vibrant economies such as China and India. Indeed achievements of sizable profits by some major banks in the US recently would seem to convey the impression that the global economy is rebounding, hopefully in a sustainable way. Uncertainty, though, remains because without sustained vigilance and reforms the IMF has warned of a looming major financial crisis, more severe than any experienced so far.

Such predictions would seem to suggest that the types of financial regulatory framework adopted by banks are not effective in insulating the economies against excessive external shocks. Relatively important is the need to ensure that the fundamentals for sustainable economic growth are effectively in place. The countries of the Pacific ought to be seriously encouraged to commit to continued pursuit of economic reforms aimed at advancing macroeconomic stability and developing economic resilience against undue pressures.

At the national level, because of capacity constraints and natural disadvantages, the policy options for either applying austerity measures or economic stimulus packages are limited. This is where regional options might provide policy space. A number of these options are embraced in the Pacific Plan and have already been rolled out as public goods for the benefit of member countries. These are at our disposal and it may be that, essentially, all that is required to benefit from these options or priorities would be to mainstream the options into our national policies and plans.

I am aware, however, that there may be setbacks in linking Pacific Plan priorities to national policies and plans. This is an area that, as Forum Chair, I will pay some attention to in order to strengthen our regional cooperation and boost our capacity as a region to respond to global crises of the likes of the recent global economic crisis. Acting together we will be stronger, and building our regional cooperation is a necessary condition for regional unity.

But regional cooperation is also absolutely necessary for negotiating our interests in international fora. On climate change, we, especially our smaller island states, are at the forefront of the onset of climate change. The threat of sea level rise, severe droughts and famines are real for the Pacific. The future of our citizens is at stake, yet international recognition of our plight is distressingly disproportionate to the severity of this threat.

As far as our own efforts are concerned, we have taken steps in the region to develop frameworks for action and have spoken at length about what we must do as a region. Recently the Call for Action on Climate Change adopted by Leaders in Cairns last year represents our agreed collective positions on climate change. Yet there is a lack of spirit of partnership and common endeavor on these regional platforms. Consequently, we might have missed an opportunity in Copenhagen to commit states to binding targets, perhaps to our disadvantage especially in the face of the imminent expiry of the Kyoto Protocol.

For such a critical issue as climate change, our cause is better served when we remain as a group and front up the international community with a common strategy. Moving forward, in preparation for the next COP meeting in Mexico this year, we need to be organized better and agree on strategies well ahead of the meeting.

At the national level, new national strategies for mitigation and adaptation must be developed to stem the wave of global warming. Such actions would need to be aptly targeted on those areas and sectors where the greatest impact might be achieved. For example, reversing deforestation and reducing consumption of fossil fuels. On these fronts, sustained efforts to establish infrastructure for renewable energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels must be expedited and supported. However, as we all know, necessary as these may be, such programs are capital-intensive. For that reason, the assistance of development partners in these efforts will be critical to finance these investments and prevent unnecessary disruption to economic growth. Other mitigation efforts such as reforestation must be supported by legislations against irresponsible and unsustainable logging.

A small region faced with so many challenges as ours must recognize the critical importance of developing regional integration as an essential element of our strategies for survival and development.

The time has come for all of us to move forward to the next level of our regional cooperation where Pacific countries and territories can embrace regional integration and breakdown the barriers separating us. We need to be talking much more about how we can bring hope to the Pacific citizens who are struggling to find employment; who are without political freedom; who want to ensure that their children receive decent education; and who are prepared to confront the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other health epidemics.

We need to break down those barriers and remove elements of our societies that deny democracy and good governance in order that we as a region can celebrate our common vision of a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, its full observance of democratic values, and for its defense of human rights taking into account the diversity of our respective cultures and traditions. The Biketawa Declaration, now in its 10th year, provides the guiding principles for good governance, democracy and respect for the rule of law and human rights.

However In respect of these values, it is of concern that a founding member of the Forum, the Republic of Fiji Islands, remains suspended because of its breaches of these fundamental principles. As Leaders of Pacific Island Nations, we have the duty and responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji so that democratic principles and practices could be restored in Fiji as soon as possible.

The Biketawa Declaration also provides for collective action by the Forum in the event of crises in the region. That we have successfully restored law and order and rebuilt Solomon Islands through RAMSI. and helped the Government and people of Nauru overcome their financial difficulties under the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru (PRAN) demonstrate that regionalism can work. We must be proud of these positive regional endeavors. We must remain united in pursuing our common quest for a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance and capacity to deliver services to its peoples.

We also need to remove barriers to our economies, to better promote the free flow of goods, services and investment throughout the region. Therefore, the development of regional trade arrangements such as PICTA and PACER-Plus are vehicles to achieve this. As leaders, we need to provide the political support to ensure our regional cooperation can foster under these regional trade arrangements.

With negotiations on PACER-Plus already launched and preparatory work underway, it is a matter of concern that full PICTA implementation is slow. I understand our Secretariat continues to assist those parties yet to fulfill their domestic requirements. We must do our part to ensure PICTA is fully implemented in the interests of our island nations.

Trade integration can offer new economic opportunities for growth, essential for building economic capacity to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Time is against us and our performance to date suggests that the Pacific region cannot meet all the MDGs by 2015. Some of us are well ahead, but a majority is struggling. This is an area we will need help from our development partners.

Well coordinated development assistance can be effective as these can make a direct impact on national capacity building. We expect aid coordination to improve substantially as soon as wide commitment is made in the implementation of the Cairns Compact for Strengthening Coordination of Development Assistance in the Pacific. Coupled with improved awareness of the Paris Principles and Accra Action Agenda, we can expect to see more effective interventions by development partners in the pursuit of the MDGs.

The new regionalism I speak about is one characterized by our citizens enjoying high standards of health and education, long lives and many opportunities; where Pacific economic performance is constantly improving, driven by environmentally sustainable service industries. It would be regionalism whereby coups, civil wars and the dangers of so-called “failed states” are relegated to the past; whereby the Pacific is integrated in the wider region, and whereby we can have an influential voice in world affairs. This is within our reach and with the spirit of partnership we can achieve this

Finally, fellow Leaders, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I at this point, on all our behalf, thank our development partners for their continued assistance to us in many difficult times. We appreciate very much their generous support to our region.

I also want to thank our regional organizations for the excellent work that they do in the service of the region and member countries. In particular, I want to thank the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Mr. Tuiloma Neroni Slade and his staff, for the very high level of service that they provide to us.

The able leadership of the Secretary General, including in difficult times, ensures the Secretariat remains effective and efficient.

I also acknowledge the work of the private sector and civil society in contributing to the socio-economic development of the region. There is so much that we can do together and our gains are more meaningful when we work together for the benefit of our citizens.

Thank you very much.




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