Opening remarks by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at PACP Leaders' meeting

Rarotonga, Cook Islands
28 August 2012

Welcoming Remarks
Tuiloma Neroni Slade
Secretary General and Regional Authorising Officer
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat


Hon Leaders of the Pacific ACP States
ACP Secretary General, Dr Chambas
Heads of delegations
Representatives of the CROP agencies
Officials and colleagues

It is a privilege to be the first to speak in this gathering and, with much pleasure to extend to you all our Secretariat greetings. We are all most honored and deeply grateful to the Government and citizens of the Cook Islands for the grace and warmth of their unsparing welcome.

Hon Leaders,

2. Pacific ACP Ministers and Officials have been engaged in work and discussions and quite intensive preparations for this meeting. This work is reflected in your agenda which bears annotated commentary and which features a broad range of subjects of great importance to all member countries.

3. Allow me very briefly to highlight some of the principal issues for Leaders’ particular consideration today.

4. The Pacific partnership with the European Union (EU) is of course longstanding, forged through historical links over almost 40 years with the signing of the Georgetown Agreement in 1975. Under the EU-ACP framework, the European Commission (EC) and the EU Member States have made very significant financial and technical contributions to the development of the region. The current focus of the Pacific Regional Indicative Programme on regional economic integration and the sustainable development of natural resources and environment provide the means to help the region identify specific ways in which we can build capacities in our islands, and towards overcoming isolation and vulnerabilities.

5. The future of this relationship will no doubt continue to offer opportunities. But we expect that it will also raise challenges. The EU’s development policy as reflected in their new “Agenda for Change” suggests, for instance, that EU’s relationship with developing countries will not simply be that of the old “donor” type, but rather a multi-faceted one with a “differentiated” approach. The “differentiated” approach under the Agenda for Change may mean that for some Pacific ACP States the current level of assistance from the EU may not be assured. Leaders will have the opportunity to hear more of the details from the representatives of the European Commission and the ACP Secretariat on these matters.

6. The Pacific engagement with the EU, in the context of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), needs to be concluded this year in accordance with Leaders’ directives. It is already a longstanding series of negotiations. Noting the time taken since negotiations first commenced in 2004, as well as the significant regional effort and demands on its resources, it is important that Hon Leaders now at this meeting deliberate on end-game scenarios for the EPA negotiations.

7. There is need to keep careful watch on the technical working group meeting scheduled for October 2012; also the possibility, as may be warranted, for a follow-up Ministerial session with the EC towards concluding any EPA negotiations on the outstanding issues. Depending on the results of these efforts, there may be need for a special PACP Leaders’ meeting to make the final determinations on a comprehensive EPA for the region or other option approved by Hon Leaders.

8. Making tangible progress and finalising the EPA will require commitment and flexibility from both the EU and PACP countries. A re-emphasis of the original intent for a development-friendly EPA and improved arrangements to channel aid for the development of trade is of high importance.

9. Trade and cooperation agreements are an integral part of the broader economic integration agenda for the region. As we seek to further engage with economies outside the region, our own efforts towards regional integration should be intensified and accelerated. Agreed arrangements such as the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) need to be pursued vigorously and more seriously so that countries are able to undertake necessary reforms and adjustments and be better prepared to contend with the pressures of a globalised economy, as well as seizing the opportunities provided within the region.

10. With a sense of achievement, I report to Hon Leaders that, further to your directions, and after much hard work and seven rounds of negotiations, the PICTA Trade in Services Protocol was initialed at the recent Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting in Tonga some 10 days ago. PACP Ministers have commended the PICTA Trade in Services Protocol for your Leaders’ signatures today.

11. This will be a significant step towards facilitating deeper regional integration, and unlocking the potential benefits of regional trade in services. It also signals that all Forum island countries are making commitments to liberalise services in the areas of travel and tourism, transport and certain aspects of business services. Many others have made commitments to open up their communications, education and financial services sectors to the Forum island counties. This initiative, if promoted well and supported through the right sets of incentives, has the potential to create further investments in the region and enable real growth in island economies.

12. These regional agreements among Forum island countries will also better prepare Pacific economies for engagement under the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, and also with respect to undertaking negotiations with Australia, New Zealand and other developed countries.

13. Pacific ACP management issues, specifically the decision of PACP Leaders in Auckland last year to convene an Eminent Persons Group to consider and make recommendations on the future arrangements for the management of Pacific ACP issues will also require your further direction.

14. Hon Leaders, as I conclude my remarks, I note the time bound challenges we face, and the need to work towards your collective vision for a prosperous Pacific, with dynamic and vibrant economies.

15. I wish you successful outcomes from your discussions.

Thank you.

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