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Keynote Address by Vanuatu PM and Forum Chair

Pacific Islands Forum 40th Anniversary Leaders’ Lecture Series
with a focus on the Pacific Plan

Keynote Address by Honourable Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu
Prime Minister of Vanuatu and
Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum

Thursday 3rd March 2011

“Pacific Regionalism: Past, Present and Future”

Excellencies, Heads of States of the Pacific Islands Forum Countries
Excellencies, Heads of Government of the Pacific Islands Forum Countries
Excellencies, Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum Countries
Excellencies, Members of Parliament of Pacific Islands Forum Countries
Excellencies, Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps
The Secretary General of Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
The Vice Chancellor of University of the South Pacific
Regional Directors of the CROP Agencies
Distinguished Participants; and
Fellow Families of the Pacific

On behalf of the Government and people of Vanuatu, I welcome you one and all. Bienvenue et je vous souhaite un agréable séjour dans nos belles îles de Vanuatu!

It is a great honour and privilege that I stand here today to deliver the first of a series of public addresses to mark the occasion of the Pacific Islands Forum 40th Anniversary focusing on the journey of the region in the last 40 years and the role of the Pacific Plan as a regional instrument to guide the delivery of our regional aspirations.

I take this opportunity to thank the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Rejesh Chandra, for agreeing to host this inaugural lecture.

The theme of my address today is therefore “Pacific Regionalism: Past, Present and Future”.

Background and History

Regionalism is a deeply engrained practice in the history of the Pacific. Prior to full scale European engagement with the region, our communities collaborated and travelled across the Pacific for a variety of reasons to settle in and explore other islands and to satisfy their curiosity as to what lay over the horizon.

Those early years of migration and expansionism across the Pacific have had a profound influence on the way that Pacific Islanders view themselves, their island homes, the region and the world more generally. Ours is a region linked by ocean – the largest body of water in the world. Pacific people recognize that this vast ocean, links us to one another and connects us in our common aspirations for a better more secure and prosperous region.

In more recent times we have recognized the natural advantages in our common heritage and the value that this collective strength offers us in meeting the economic, security, environmental and development challenges facing the region.

A good example of early regionalism was the establishment of the University of the South Pacific, a flagship institution for regional cooperation which has played a vital role in building a shared identity for the Pacific. Its establishment in 1968 demonstrated long-term thinking and a true commitment to regionalism.

The establishment of the South Pacific Forum in 1971 reflected the desire of Pacific leaders to deepen their engagement and discussion on political issues of significance to the newly independent states of the Pacific.

Key issues discussed at that first meeting held in Wellington in early August 1971 included regional trade, shipping, aviation, as well as nuclear testing. It was attended by the President of Nauru, the Prime Ministers of Western Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, the Premier of the Cook Islands, the Australian Minister for External Territories, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

In 1973, the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation (SPEC) was established as the Secretariat to the Pacific Islands Forum. This reflected the bias towards economic cooperation, although issues such as de-colonisation and nuclear testing remained high on the agenda.

At the 1988 Leaders meeting in Tonga, Leaders endorsed a change in name from SPEC to the Forum Secretariat.

In 2000, the South Pacific Forum changed its name to the Pacific Islands Forum, reflecting its expanding membership. At the Auckland Forum in August 2003, Leaders agreed that there was a need to comprehensively review regionalism in the Pacific, including the role of the Secretariat and other regional agencies. This review was undertaken in early 2004 by an Eminent Persons Group, chaired by Sir Julius Chan – former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and currently serving as Governor of New Ireland Province – and country representatives from other Forum Members Australia, Kiribati, Tonga and Samoa.

The report titled The Eminent Persons’ Group Review of the Pacific Islands Forum was presented to Leaders at a Special Leaders’ Retreat in Auckland in April 2004. It highlighted a number of key issues for the Forum, including this statement from the report:

“The Pacific is facing considerable challenges, both external and home-grown. Overcoming them will require concerted action, not only by national Governments but also at the regional level. Success will depend on the region having a clear vision of its future and a plan for getting there. This Review proposes both. The Vision acknowledges both Pacific traditions and 21st century realities. It involves a redefinition of the traditional “Pacific Way” of doing things. The plan – named here the Pacific Plan – is intended to build on the generally successful process of regional cooperation that has evolved during the past several decades.”

Leaders endorsed the report through the Auckland Declaration, and agreed amongst other priorities, to convene a Task Force to develop a Pacific Plan for the region.

Under the Auckland Declaration, Leaders adopted the following vision for the region:

“Leaders believe the Pacific region can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures, traditions and religious beliefs are valued, honoured and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights. We seek partnerships with our neighbours and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.”

In 2004, a Pacific Islands Forum Task Force was established to develop the Pacific Plan. It held consultations with a wide range of state and non-state actors, including Governments, Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) agencies, development partners, and civil society representatives.

The Pacific Plan was endorsed by Leaders at their meeting in Port Moresby in 2005. The goal of the plan is to enhance and stimulate economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security for Pacific countries through regionalism.

The goal is supported by a number of objectives around four key pillars – economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security.

The Pacific Plan was endorsed in 2005 for a period of 10 years; and I note here that Leaders recognised that the Plan would have to change to reflect new priorities in the region and could remain in place beyond 2015.

Progressing our Pacific Plan

The Pacific Plan was envisaged by Pacific Leaders as a ‘living document’, meaning that it could be adjusted to reflect emerging priorities or the changed conditions for regionalism in the Pacific. In 2009, Leaders endorsed five themes centered around the key vulnerabilities of the region and related priorities to guide the implementation of the Plan over the period 2010 to 2012. The intention of Leaders was to provide a medium-term framework for the Pacific Plan so that efforts by national governments, development partners and donors, and CROP agencies could be re-focused on those priorities.

These themes are reflective of those endorsed by Leaders in 2005. However, Leaders recognized the emerging threat to the region posed by climate change and as a result climate change was identified in 2005 as a separate priority requiring the full attention of national governments, CROP agencies and development partners.

The implementation of the Pacific Plan is reviewed annually by the Pacific Plan Action Committee, comprising senior officials from the Members of the Forum, and Heads of CROP agencies. The Pacific Plan Action Committee continues to be the main regional policy body coordinating and monitoring the achievements of the Plan, and reports directly to Leaders. The Committee considers annual progress reports by the Secretariat on the implementation of the Pacific Plan.

What has the Pacific Plan achieved?

The Pacific Plan has provided a long-term vision for the Pacific, and ensured a medium-term framework for identifying priorities and tracking their progress. The Pacific Plan priorities, as identified by Leaders, provides a consistent set of initiatives to be implemented over 3-year periods, The Plan provides for Leaders a type of scorecard record of how the region is tracking against set goals and objectives.

CROP activities

It is also quite significant to note that the Pacific Plan continues to play a very important role in focusing the efforts of CROP agencies on the Leaders’ priorities, reinforced by our call for the implementation of the Regional Institutional Framework. Leaders recognized through the Pacific Plan the need for a re-shaping of the regional architecture to reduce duplication and to increase coordination. This has resulted for example in the integration of the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPBEA) functions into SPC, which over time is expected to strengthen service to members and ensure a more coordinated approach.

The Pacific Plan, in driving this work, has provided a high level strategic framework, with input from CROP agencies, to shape the work of the Forum Secretariat and other CROP agencies to ensure a more coordinated approach to common issues. Another example of the role of the Plan is evident in its encouragement to Forum Island Countries and CROP agencies to work closely together on addressing the impact and effect of climatic changes on the region. This is reflected in the decisions by various Ministerial Forums reinforcing the coordinated approach by the region to addressing the impact of climate change.

As I have noted earlier, the Pacific Plan provides a strategic framework to track and report on progress towards greater regional cooperation and integration to a wider audience. Annual progress reports have been prepared since 2006, and there has been renewed effort in 2010 to report on all the work that is being undertaken by Forum Members and CROP agencies in support of the Leaders priorities for the Pacific Plan.

The Pacific Plan Action Committee provides a structured process where senior officials of Member countries and CROP agencies may influence the development of regional policy. The Pacific Plan Action Committee has also provided a mechanism for better coordination of the relevant work of CROP agencies as they relate to the Pacific Plan priorities, and for the CROP agencies to better explain to Members, and each other, how they are working in support of the Pacific Plan.

Partnerships

The Pacific Plan provides a very important entry point for engagement with development partners and the broader international community on the issues facing the Pacific region; and how these partners can assist. For example, Leaders and the United Nations agreed that, “The Pacific Plan reflects the region’s priorities which are in line with and support the implementation of international frameworks such as the Barbados Programme of Action and The Mauritius Strategy of Implementation.” (2007 Vava’u Decisions on the Pacific Plan)

A number of regional initiatives have been identified and driven as a result of the Pacific Plan. For example, the negotiation of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, the provision of, sub-regional audit services for the Smaller Island States; regional approaches in the bulk procurement of petroleum; the establishment of the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation; regional policies in energy, food security, information and communication technology; and increased regional cooperation on maritime monitoring and surveillance.

Regional security

The Pacific Plan also complements the Forum’s regional security architecture, including the Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC) and the various security-related declarations by Leaders, including the Biketawa Declaration. The Plan’s objective of strengthening regional cooperation and integration are also important in achieving the vision of a peaceful and harmonious Pacific region. A collective approach to the region’s security challenges, including in tackling transnational crime and terrorism, in minimizing the damage created by internal conflicts and in addressing human security issues such as sexual and gender-based violence, remain fundamental to the creation of a conducive environment for the economic, social and political advancement of the Pacific region.

Pacific Plan – work in progress

In talking about the Pacific Plan as the regional vehicle for development, I acknowledge that the Pacific Plan commenced implementation only five years ago, in 2006. In that sense it is still a work in progress and some time will be required in order for us to see the full benefits of the Pacific Plan for the region.

Importantly, regional cooperation and integration is ultimately an exercise in political leadership. It depends on the willingness of Leaders in the Pacific to find a suitable balance between national interests and priorities and regional opportunities.

Taking our region forward and challenges ahead

Distinguished guests, speaking in my capacity as Vanuatu Prime Minister, I put to you now, how can we take our region forward and what are our challenges ahead?

As we look to the future, we must reflect on the past.

The Pacific has a long history of regionalism. This is important – the current global thinking of the Pacific islands as being isolated and facing great distances fails to understand a rich and proud history of an inclusive and interlinked Pacific where pre historical contact and networks between islands continue to be a key feature of the regional landscape.

Prior to colonialism and the development of western notions of state borders, our forbearers viewed the sea and islands as interconnected, a vast resource and ocean highway to be navigated, explored and revered. We are proud of this shared heritage and grateful to our ancestors for their resilience, foresight and courage.

During the colonial period, the Pacific Islands lost their sovereignty to various European, Pacific, North American and Asian powers and found themselves integrated into global empires, providing opportunities for foreign settlement and capital investment and markets for manufactured goods in return for the export of natural resources produced with low paid local labour. It is often forgotten that the Pacific Islands have already experienced a form of globalization, which most often did not work to their advantage.

Over the past few decades, we have regained our independence and treasure the right to again be able to determine our own affairs. This fact must be kept in mind as we negotiate new relationships in the increasingly globalised world of the 21st century.

Regionalism offers an opportunity for the Pacific to both build on our past and re-define our future and will require us to re-think the traditional notions of the state and its institutions—concepts that have largely been derived from Western liberal thinking and became the essence of our newly independent nations.

A fully integrated Pacific region will require us to re-think the traditional notions of the state and its institutions, concepts that have largely been inherited from developed Western economies.

To work cooperatively between Pacific States will require us to re-think the balance between national resources and institutions and regional ones. For example, where does the balance lie between service delivery at the national level and regional level? How can national policy in areas such as transport, education and health be shifted to the regional level? What institutions should exist solely at the regional level, and what is the ideal nature of the relationships between national and regional bodies and how do we use these relationships to our collective advantage?

This is not an easy debate. The Pacific is a very diverse group of countries, bound by our ocean and geography. Building common institutions in a region that covers one third of the world’s area is always going to be a challenging task.

The issue of climate change is one that to me warrants collective and coordinated responses by groups of nations. This is the strength of the Pacific and our region. We have a proud history of working together, finding consensus ways to make decisions for the collective good. But the challenges of today require us to work as a region to influence global thinking. If we cannot do that, we will have failed our people, people who will be forced to flee their homes as sea levels rise, fresh water is no longer available and food stocks dwindle. We owe it to our children and the future generation not to let this happen. We owe it to our ancestors, not to let this happen.

Another issue that is being promoted at the moment through the Forum Secretariat is the concept of full integration of Pacific countries. It is argued that full regional integration will offer greater access to labour markets in our more developed economies and that the free flow of goods and services will ultimately benefit our people. The difficulty in getting agreement to Pacer-Plus indicates that this is not as simple as it sounds and presents serious challenges to the national interest of a number of Pacific Island countries—challenges that we Pacific leaders sometimes underestimate in our eagerness to achieve short term economic benefits.

The economic zone envisaged by the Pacific Plan, for example, has the potential to benefit mainly Australia and New Zealand in trade, with Forum Island Countries bearing the adjustment costs. The removal of tariffs, which is envisaged, would greatly undermine one of the most important sources of revenue for a number of Pacific governments, since most are primarily importers and not exporters of goods and services. Moreover, it could be argued that closer ties with exporting countries offering more competitive prices for goods and services—especially countries in Asia—would be far more advantageous than tying ourselves only to Australia and New Zealand. Clearly, integration can be of benefit, but we need to more fully examine the long term effects.

Likewise, opening up our countries to the free flow of capital for investment has the potential to undermine our basic sovereignty. This is what happened in colonial times and the result was the acquisition in many cases of valuable land and domination of our economies by outsiders. We here in Vanuatu have recently experienced a speculative serge in land acquisitions by foreign investors that has increased the level of land disputes between our own people and held up the specter of the loss of control over our most important resource. We do not want a return to the conditions of colonial days where we have lost sovereignty in our own country. The present government is currently examining possible changes to legislation to provide more protection of Ni-Vanuatu interests in land matters.

Moreover, as you must certainly be aware, several Pacific Island countries are already participating in a scheme to allow laborers to travel to New Zealand on short term contracts for mainly agricultural work. It is hoped that a similar scheme proposed by the Australian government will also soon begin to operate. Here in Vanuatu, we have seen the benefits as both men and women return home with money saved, which they are able to use for improving the lives of their families. Hundreds apply whenever recruiters advertise for applications.

While the scheme appears to be a great success, we have not, however, begun to assess whether or not this free flow of labour out of our country may also have negative aspects. What, for example, is the effect on families when fathers and mothers—husbands and wives—absent themselves for months at a time? There are numerous examples of individuals who arrive back with hard earned money in their pockets who simply go on drinking binges for a few weeks leaving nothing to show for their hard work.

There are signs that the free flow of labour has the potential, in fact, to lead to shortages in our own countries. There are reports, for example, that some Pacific Island countries are experiencing a shortage of doctors and nurses due to significant number seeking employment overseas.

Related to this is the issue of training. There is a need to examine the financing of training facilities established around the region, which could begin to feed graduates into Australia and New Zealand. To ensure that the costs of educating and training this mobile labour will not be borne by the supplying countries alone it is important that significant financial support be provided through aid.

I want to repeat that I fully support the principle of expanding Pacific integration, but it is important to ensure that our countries truly benefit from any decisions made in this regard. While we, as Pacific Island Leaders, need to be able to look beyond our national interests and identify common challenges where a regional approach would best serve our needs, we must also insure that we retain a national approach when it best serves our people. Integration will only work where we can align national and regional interests. When this is not possible, then it is only right that we retain our own national approach in dealing with our needs.

A good example of a successful regional approach is the University of the South Pacific, a flagship institution for regional cooperation which has played a vital role in providing tertiary level education and building a shared identity for the Pacific. Its establishment in 1968, before most of our countries had gained independence, shows exceptional long-term thinking and a true commitment to regionalism on the part of the founders, which Pacific Island leaders have continued to foster and support. At the same time, over the years as populations have increased, several Pacific countries have moved to establish their own national universities. In my view, these new institutions should not be seen as competitors but as complementary to USP, providing new opportunities to meet new needs as defined by the particular countries themselves.

Leadership

Fundamentally, one of the challenges facing the Pacific region is also one of leadership. We, as Pacific Island Leaders, need to be able to look beyond our national interests and identify common challenges where a regional approach, instead of a national approach, will better serve the general good of the people. This will only work where we can align national and regional interests. The extent to which we can think on a regional scale and look at long-term opportunities to share resources for our common good will determine whether we succeed or fail.

A case for sub-regionalism

In considering regionalism, one trend that I would like to discuss is sub-regionalism.

In my view, there has been a tendency in the media and other sectors to view sub-regionalism as a threat to regionalism; as undermining regional institutions and efforts. Instead, I think regionalism should be viewed as countries with strong common interests working together to build mutual cooperation and understanding, and not at the expense of any other group.

A good example of the manifestation of sub-regionalism was the formation of the grouping of Smaller Island States within the Pacific Islands Forum in 1987, initially comprising Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue and Tuvalu; later encompassing the Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau.

In endorsing the Plan Plan in 2005 in Port Moresby, Leaders agreed to note, among other things, the need to advocate the special and peculiar needs of Smaller Island States; provide special assistance for the implementation of the Pacific Plan, and ensure that they derive the fullest possible benefit from the Plan, particularly given their limited capacity and fragile and vulnerable environment.

Another example, close to home, is the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which has been portrayed as a challenge to the region, building alternative coalitions. Rather, it should be viewed as countries with a common history, related cultural traditions and a commitment to dialogue working together on issues of mutual interest. Sub-regionalism has it place. In some cases, services are better delivered at the sub-regional level rather than the region, such as audit services for the Smaller Island States. This is not to rule out Pacific wide regional approaches, rather it reflects practical, effective and sustainable use of the resources we have.

Our Vision for the region and the Pacific Plan

In many ways, the Leaders’ Vision for the Pacific that was adopted in 2005 as part of the Pacific Plan remains as relevant as ever. The Pacific Plan is an important step in taking Pacific regionalism forward.

It provides a very important framework that articulates Pacific Leaders’ highest priorities for the region, and helps to guide the work of CROP agencies, development partners and national governments.

A key challenge for the Pacific Plan is to build the linkages to the national level, and demonstrate how it is making a difference to the lives of Pacific people.

Civil Society

Some commentators would argue that there has been a gap between the Pacific Plan and non-state actors. It is quite clear that civil society plays an important role in national service delivery complementing work done by national governments. In this regard I think the connection between the Pacific Plan and civil society would need to be better demonstrated and captured in the Pacific Plan reporting frameworks. The challenge for the Secretariat on this important aspect of national and regional responsiveness is to better reflect this element in its reporting on the Plan.

But overall, may I say that the Pacific Plan has been hugely important in presenting a regional face to the rest of the world, including the global community. It has demonstrated to the global community that the Pacific region is tackling regionalism seriously, and that we are continuously looking at ways that we can work closer together for the benefit of the region.

The Pacific Plan has also shaped our thinking on the key priorities for the region and it has ensured a healthy and regular debate on what we should be doing to address the challenges facing our region.

It has also taken some time for the Pacific Plan to be fully understood by the region. Leaders and national governments have only just begun to appreciate the role of the Pacific Plan to compliment national efforts, rather than overtake them. Like any regional activity, it takes time to understand how it contributes to the national priorities of governments of the region, and how it can play a role in improving and enhancing those efforts.

Given that it has been six years since the introduction of the Pacific Plan, I would like to see some form of review or evaluation that assesses what impact the Pacific Plan has had on the region, and how it can be improved to continue serving the region for the next 10 years. While I will leave it to the Secretariat to consider the details of such an undertaking, I think this would be a useful exercise and ensure that the Pacific Plan remains relevant to our regional needs.

The Pacific Plan broadly addresses the major challenges facing the region, from climate change, to social issues, to security and stability. The key issue is, to what extent the Pacific Plan and complimentary efforts by CROP agencies are making a difference to the lives of the peoples of the Pacific. A comprehensive review will enable a better assessment of the effectiveness of all the work being undertaken in the name of the Pacific Plan, and enable Leaders in the region to continue to direct resources and efforts to those priorities.

Improving the Pacific Plan

The Pacific Plan has been implemented since 2006, a mere six years ago, and as a result of the hard work and cooperation efforts by Forum Members and CROP agencies has seen progress towards greater regional cooperation and integration.

The Pacific Plan has been very important in shaping our thinking around regionalism, provided a strategic framework for driving regional initiatives, and been a key entry point for the region’s engagement with development partners and the wider international community.

But having said that, I think there is scope for improvement in how we engage, and who we engage with, in the implementation of the Pacific Plan.

The decision by fellow Leaders in 2009 to set medium-term priorities for the Pacific Plan was a step forward. It ensured a clear sense of direction for the plan, and clearly articulated how we could deliver on the Leaders Vision for the Pacific as a, “region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity.”

My concern is how we translate these gains in regional integration and cooperation to the national level. There is no point working on a regional project if, at the end of the day, it does not benefit the communities and people of the Pacific. There needs to be more effort to explain and translate these regional gains into national benefits, so that people across the region get a better understanding of how regionalism will benefit their lives.

Some of that responsibility lies with Pacific Island Leaders. It is we who must explain to our people how regional integration will benefit their lives. For example, we must be able to argue the case for regional trade integration, especially on the basis of the benefits that this approach brings to the region.

But we must also be honest, for there will be difficult changes facing many parts of society if we fully integrate our trade, our economies and our communities. The region will need assistance from development partners and other key players to help us manage the challenges and take advantage of opportunities in ways that are socially responsible and sensitive to the history and culture of our region.

In explaining the benefits of regionalism, I think as I have noted earlier, there is a major opportunity under the Pacific Plan to engage more fully with civil society organizations and non-state actors. Non-state actors, including civil society and the private sector, must be key players in appropriately shaping and influencing regional policy. There needs to be greater reinvigoration of this relationship under the Pacific Plan, and we must seek more effective engagement between civil society and the key regional policy mechanisms.

With this, my regional friends and colleagues, I leave you to take this debate further. This is an important discussion and the Pacific Islands Forum’s 40th Anniversary has given us an excellent opportunity to reflect on our individual and collective efforts, and to plot the path ahead.

Tangkiu tumas and I look forward to views from the Panel and audience.

(Ends)

 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed by the speakers in the Public Lecture are their own and do not necessarily represent the policies or the views of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, nor have they been in any way endorsed by the Forum membership.

 

 

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