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Samoa Prime Minister's Keynote Address at Forum Trade Ministers Meeting

PRIME MINISTER’S KEYNOTE ADDRESS

FORUM TRADE MINISTERS MEETING

TANOA TUSITALA HOTEL, APIA, 19 JULY 2013

 

Pastor Talomua Mona

The Honourable President of Nauru,

Honourable Ministers,

Heads of Delegations;                                               

Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat;

Chief Trade Advisor to the Forum Island Countries;

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is a great pleasure to warmly welcome you all to Apia for this year’s Forum Trade Ministers Meeting. I would like to extend my appreciation to the Forum Members for again giving us the opportunity to host this important meeting in Samoa and to also thank the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat for their support in assisting us with the logistics and arrangements. I trust that you have had a pleasant journey to our shores and hope that you have enjoyed your stay with us in the last few days.

Earlier this week the senior trade officials met to discuss and deliberate on an array of trade related issues pertaining to our region, and I am informed that they have presented key recommendations on each of the items on the agenda for your consideration and discussions, that include the status of the PACER Plus negotiations and regional trade issues covered under the Pacific Island Forum Secretariats’ work programme.

Honourable Ministers, you noted in your meeting last year important developments in the operations of the PIFS Geneva Office, as well as the funding of its operations with contributions from our Forum Island Countries, WTO members, Australia and the European Union. In Samoa’s case, as a non-resident member of the WTO, the service of the PIFS Geneva Office, is quite important in providing FIC WTO members with updates on the progress made, on the Doha Development Agenda, as well as other trade related matters. The other Pacific Island Countries, would probably have the same experience. The work of the Geneva Office in assisting our Pacific Islands to engage and integrate into the global trading regime, is quite crucial, and therefore merit continued funding support, and where feasible, the expansion of its work to non-WTO work but still trade related matters.

As you know, the Pacific Trade and Invest Offices in Auckland, Beijing, Sydney and Tokyo represent an important network for trade and investment promotion specifically set up for our Pacific Islands private sector, and businesses to tap into. The officials have examined the work of these offices, and have made recommendations on further improvements for your consideration.

Areas that are interlinked, and have demanded greater attention in recent years are Traditional Knowledge, Intellectual Property Rights, and a Regional Trademarks Application System. These, together, represent potential benefits for people, in our island communities. The officials have made recommendations for your consideration on the support required from our respective countries, to secure the required technical assistance to conclude and bring these important initiatives into operation.

The PACER Plus negotiations have made important steps forward in Apia, in December last year, and the various inter-sessional meetings. As well, the OCTA consultations with Non-State Actors earlier this year, also contributed to this progress and underscored the importance of keeping these key stakeholders involved, in the negotiations and ongoing talks, to ensure that the sustained benefits, for island countries we seek under the PACER Plus, are indeed achieved.

Like with the PACER Plus negotiations, our Pacific Island Countries in its PACP group format, have also been very active with the negotiations of an EPA deal with the EU. I am aware that key issues remain unresolved and I hope that your meeting would be able to make further contributions in our collective effort to complete a regional EPA without too much more delay.

The benefits we are seeking from the trade arrangements being negotiated would have little chance of being achieved without adequate technical assistance and financial support provided through development cooperation partnerships and Aid for Trade initiatives. I hope that your meeting will make decisions that would complete and finalise the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy. Once the Strategy is finalised, full attention could then focus to clearly identify where real resource gaps do indeed exist and not merely imagined. In any event, I hope that it would be possible to approve the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy first and after that turn attention to evaluate rigorously the actual resources needed to implement the Strategy. It may well turn out that much of the resources needed are already provided through existing partnership mechanisms.

Samoa graduates from LDC status in 2014, and we are making every effort to pursue economic development opportunities that regional integration and trade expansion offers. This is reflected in our Trade, Commerce and Manufacturing Sector Plan 2012-2016 which sets out challenges we face in the promotion of trade and investment and more importantly the actions and tasks we need to do including the further strengthening of partnerships with our private sector.

I know that the focus of your work in this meeting is on market access, product development and trade promotion. However, I consider it quite important to mention a supreme challenge that is quite simply inseparable to efforts to increase and promote trade. This is the issue of transportation and in particular sea freight transport. Such was the importance of sea freight transportation to the development of island economies that it became a top priority with the Pacific Leadership in the early years of the Pacific Islands Forum and I refer here to Prime Minister Kirk and Prime Minister Muldoon of New Zealand and their respective counterparts in Australia and in the island governments at the time. I was one of the officials participating for Samoa in those negotiations held 40 years ago. It resulted in the pivotal collective effort that included Australia, New Zealand and the island countries which helped established the Pacific Forum Line shipping company which was internationally recognised as an excellent example of a successful regional venture that ought to be adopted by other Regional groupings. Sadly for a variety of reasons that still remain unclear in my mind, the shipping line and the great effort in regional cooperation it represented has now all but dissipated completely.

Present freight rates in the Pacific have in many instances are now at prohibitive levels for exports from the islands to be competitive. My worry is that after all the good work that you are doing in resolving issues on: quarantine, rules of origin, technical barriers, customs procedures as well as provide help to develop and promote products, we find ourselves in a situation where high freight costs simply make island export products uncompetitive. That would be a great pity! Simply put, we cannot succeed in promoting trade without shipping services that are dependable and affordable.  The collapse of many Airlines following September 11 events and the recent international financial crisis provided powerful lessons that governments must not allow the private sector complete freedom in the market systemfor those critical services that if handled badly would greatly impact adversely on the lives of people. Shipping for the Pacific Islands belongs in this critical services category.

My hope therefore is that through efforts at regional cooperation and integration, an innovative and bold way, reminiscent of the example of the early Forum Leaders could again be found to keep sea freight rates at affordable levels until the outcomes of the important work you are now doing to increase export trade comes to fruition. When that happens, I should imagine that the greater freight volumes of exports from the islands will mean fewer empty containers returning to Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan. The resulting economies of scale would reduce freight rates and keep them down for both inward and outbound cargos which not only benefit exporters but the wider communities of our islands countries.

To end my remarks, I wish to again thank the President of Nauru, Ministers and Heads of Delegations for your important involvement in making decisions that will help improve the welfare of our people and the development of our countries. Thank you for granting us the privilege to host your meeting in Samoa.

It is now with great pleasure that I declare the 2013 Forum Trade Ministers Meeting officially open. I wish you success with your deliberations and an enjoyable time in the remainder of your stay with us.

Thank you. Soifua

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