44th PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
MAJURO, REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS
3 - 6 SEPTEMBER 2013
PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT SECRETARY GENERAL
TUILOMA NERONI SLADE
The President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands
and in-coming Forum Chair, Hon Christopher Jorebon Loeak
The Prime Minister of Cook Islands
and outgoing Forum Chair, Hon Henry Puna
Hon Forum Leaders and their representatives
Hon Ministers and members of Parliament of the region
Under-Secretary of the UN and High Representative for the
Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries
and Small Island Developing States
ACP Secretary General
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished representatives of Development Partners of the Forum
Representatives of Regional and International Organisations
Citizens of the Marshall Islands,
With feelings of deepest appreciation let me thank the Government and people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands for hosting this gathering of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders. Thank you for your warm and generous welcome to us all. We have been privileged to witness the display of cherished traditions of your land in your greetings to the leadership of the Pacific. I want in particular to thank all the children for being here, and for contributing to the wonderful ambiance of the occasion, in their spirit, colour and symbolism. Children are the real point of the nation’s investment; the prospects for the future being the real measure of our commitment to their generation and those to come.
2. To the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands and outgoing Forum Chair, the Honourable Henry Puna, I convey to you the collective admiration and grateful appreciation of the region for your dedication and leadership of the Forum over the past year.
44th Forum Pacific Islands Forum
3. Today marks the start of the 44th meeting of the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum. This is a significant number, and which attests to the longstanding kinship of the Forum family - a family that has grown over time, from an initial membership of seven countries of the South Pacific to a Forum of sixteen member countries spanning the North and South Pacific, two Associate members and twelve Forum observers. A family blessed by the quality and enduring support of its development partners.
4. As the Forum family developed over the years, so has the complexity and scale of the challenges which we as a region encounter on a daily basis. Climate change as such did not feature as an issue for the founding fathers of the Forum. That challenge now epitomises the imperative for regional cooperation and solidarity, the impelling force from the beginnings of the Forum over forty years ago.
Forum theme: Marshalling the Pacific Response to the Climate Challenge
Mr President Loeak,
5. I congratulate you for reinforcing, through the theme for this year’s Forum - ‘Marshalling the Pacific Response to the Climate Challenge’ -the role of regional cooperation and engagement to generate new commitments and approaches at a global level to address climate change. Under your chairmanship, Sir, the Forum will undoubtedly present a powerful voice in the international climate change discussions during your tenure, including in the United Nations high level summit being planned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
6. With the recent experience of the Marshall Islands only a few short months ago of severe drought and tidal inundation, the theme for this year’s Forum meeting is most aptly on the mark. Climate change is a real and most serious threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific. The necessary responses we seek for a vulnerable region through the theme selected by the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands will also serve to prepare the region for the run-up to the International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa next year.
7. Looking to the future, there will be opportunities to capitalise on the work and efforts employed to advance the regional priorities which Forum Leaders set in the Cook Islands last year.
Pacific Plan Review
8. Prominent amongst these priorities is the review of the Pacific Plan.
9. In its relatively short life span, the Pacific Plan has played a significant role in framing and improving regional cooperation and coordination across priority sectors and among the regional organisations of the Pacific, the CROP organisations, and development partners; and initiatives have been taken to strengthen cooperation in service delivery, some involving the pooling of services. A large number of regional projects and activities aligned to Pacific Plan priority areas are in place and being implemented by the CROP organisations for the benefit of Forum countries.
10. Recalling, however, the Leaders’ Vision in 2005 of the Pacific Plan as a ‘living document’, the Forum has recognised the importance of reassessing the effectiveness of the Plan and ensuring that it remains the key driver for regional cooperation and integration in the years ahead. Tomorrow, Leaders will hear from the Eminent Person, the Rt. Honourable Sir Mekere Morauta, who has been leading a distinguished Team in an independent and comprehensive review of the Pacific Plan.
11. I take this opportunity to thank Sir Mekere and the Pacific Plan Review Team for their extensive work undertaken over the past year. May I also acknowledge the significant contribution of Hon Leaders and of the many national and regional officials, private sector representatives, civil society organisations, and development partners who have provided invaluable information and insight to the Review Team. The Secretariat stands ready to advance the new directions which Leaders may endorse as a result of this Review.
Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States 2014
12. The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States to be hosted by the Government of the Independent State of Samoa in September next year, will be a special honour for the Forum region. It is the opportunity for the Pacific to lead in the articulation of the “special case” for all small island States of the world, to underscore factors exacerbating exposure and the vulnerabilities and, in the face of multiple global forces, to seek from the international community just and committed responses to shore up resilience and coping capacities of small island communities.
13. Let me say on behalf of my CROP colleagues, that the regional organisations are committed to assist and to support Pacific island countries as they develop positions on sustainable development goals for SIDS 2014 Conference, and to ensure good outcomes for our region. CROP organisations need to be engaged and included, in line with the inclusive spirit of Rio+20 and with the logic of the theme set for the conference in Samoa, which is about securing from the international community quality and durable partnerships for development.
Progressing recent Forum Declarations
14. In the past year, the Forum Secretariat has worked closely with member Governments and regional and international organisations to advance the agenda set by Leaders in recent Forum Declarations. The historic Gender Equality Declaration proclaimed last year has stimulated a raft of initiatives across the Forum region to improve the economic, political and social opportunities of women. At their meeting in Tonga two months ago, Forum Economic Ministers advocated for the elimination of discriminatory practices which impede women’s participation in economic activity and encouraged affirmative action initiatives to improve gender participation.
15. Economic Ministers are also driving the implementation of the Waiheke Declaration on Sustainable Economic Development which Leaders endorsed in 2011.
16. Improving the region’s ability to trade – both among Pacific countries and with the international community – has been a longstanding priority of the Forum.
17. The Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and its Protocol on Trade in Services are essential to facilitate trade in goods and services. Much more can and must be done to commence and to harness the potential of PICTA. To date, only 11 countries have ratified PICTA; and since Leaders last met in Rarotonga, ten countries have signed the PICTA Protocol on Trade in Services, but only two countries (Samoa and Nauru) have ratified it.
18. Good work in being done to improve the trade policy environment, and the Secretariat is assisting Forum island countries to mainstream trade into their national development plans. But more intensive engagement is needed for member Governments to implement PICTA, and advance the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union and the PACER Plus negotiations.
19. Hon Leaders would know from the Pacific Plan review of the strong emphasis on regional integration. I would suggest that the early ratification and implementation of regional trade arrangements such as PICTA would greatly assist and facilitate such integration.
20. The Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy, which is currently being developed, should assist Forum island countries access resources to improve their institutional and productive capacity to trade goods and services. The cooperation of our development partners will be critical to the success of this Strategy.
Climate change financing
21. Similarly, the Forum looks for cooperation from the broader development community to help the region secure appropriate financing for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Secretariat has been working closely with member Governments to de-mystify the concept of climate change financing, and to identify the most efficient and effective ways for Pacific countries to access and manage the requisite funds.
22. Effective cooperation is especially critical in the maintenance and improvement of regional security. The Forum’s security architecture aims to realise the region’s aspirations for economic growth, sustainable development and good governance. As the complexity and inter-connectedness of regional security issues increase so, too, does the need for collaborative, harmonised and proactive responses.
23. The Biketawa Declaration of 2000 enabled the Forum region to respond to the assistance sought by the Solomon Islands in a time of crisis, initiating the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Many Leaders had the privilege to attend the tenth anniversary celebrations recently held in Honiara, and can personally attest to RAMSI’s many significant achievements, and the truly regional spirit of collaboration it has engendered.
24. There are other examples of regional cooperation and solidarity which are delivering important outcomes for the security of our region. I note the successful development and advocacy of a regional position on the Arms Trade Treaty, which was concluded earlier this year; and the Forum’s Regional Strategy on Unexploded Ordnance which is already generating significant international assistance for our member Governments affected by the presence of unexploded ordnances (UXO).
25. With respect to the situation in Fiji, I report to Leaders that the Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) was able to visit Fiji in April this year, and that this matter is being submitted to Leaders for their consideration at this meeting.
26. Partnerships are vital for the Forum region and are deeply valued. I wish to acknowledge the presence today of the many friends of our Forum family. Our region benefits on a daily basis from the generosity, expertise and skills of our regional technical organisations, the assistance provided by our development partners, and the support of the wider international community.
27. In particular, I acknowledge the cooperation and contribution of many of the partner technical agencies and fellow executives of the regional CROP organisations who are here today.
28. To President Loeak, Sir, the Forum Secretariat and I look forward to serving and assisting you in every way possible as you take up the Chairmanship of the Forum.
29. I wish you, Honourable Leaders, every success in your discussions and deliberations.