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Introductory Remarks at the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting by Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General




FORUM TRADE MINISTERS MEETING

28 May 2014

Parliament Chambers

Tarawa, Kiribati

“Leveraging Economic Growth Opportunities through
Trade Promotion and Facilitation Reforms”

Introductory Remarks
by
Tuiloma Neroni Slade
Secretary General
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

 

Honourable Teima Onorio – Vice President, and Minister for Internal Affairs

Honourable Ministers of the Kiribati Government

Honourable Ministers from the region responsible for Trade

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Representatives of the Private Sector and Civil Society Organisations

Senior Officials

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

First, may I thank the Government and people of the Republic Kiribati for the kindness and generosity extended to us all since our arrival, and for the very enjoyable welcoming ceremony and performance of traditional Kiribati culture and dancing. On behalf of all delegations, I express our appreciation for the fine arrangements for the meeting, and say that we feel especially privileged in being able to meet in the House of Parliament for today’s important gathering of the Forum Trade Ministers and their Senior Officials.
 

2.       The Forum Trade Ministers meeting today will give consideration to a range of trade-related priorities to the region and, more importantly, to determine practical solutions that can be pursued in the interest of all Pacific economies.
 

3.       Anumber of significant developments have taken place since Trade Ministers last met having implications and impact on trade policy, regional integration and economic development in the Pacific region, and these are being canvassed in the Ministers’ agenda. These developments will continue to shape the engagement of Forum countries with each other, and with other regional and global groupings both traditional and emerging.
 

4.       The Review of the Pacific Plan is now being finalised.  Forum Leaders at their Special Retreat in the Cook Islands earlier this month confirmed the importance of advancing Pacific regionalism. Specifically, Leaders are committedto advancing beyond regional cooperation towards deeper forms of regional integration where there are clear prospects and equitable benefits to be gained.  Leaders have therefore endorsed the re-casting of the Pacific Plan as the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
 

5.       A draft Framework was presented to and endorsed by Leaders in the Cook Islands, and the Forum Secretariat has been tasked to consult on the draft. These consultations are currently being undertaken around the region so that the Framework can be presented for final approval at the 45th Pacific Islands Forum in Palau from 29 July to 1 August 2014. I take the opportunity to seek and encourage the full engagement of all member countries and their civil society and private sector in these final rounds of consultations to shape the Framework and future for Pacific Regionalism.
 

Honourable Ministers,
 

6.       I would observe that your own efforts as Ministers responsible for pushing ahead with trade integration would need to be calibrated and in line with Leaders’ renewed commitment to advancing regionalism. In that connection let me say that the Review of the Pacific Plan has identified the desirability for Leaders at their annual summit meetings to be allowed the political space to focus on the few ‘big ticket’ and high priority demands of the region, and thus leaving Ministers mandated with specific regional tasks to deal with the details of policy coordination and implementation without necessarily seeking further direction from Leaders.          
 

7.       The theme of this year’s Forum Trade Ministers Meeting is dedicated to “Leveraging Economic Growth Opportunities through Trade Promotion and Facilitation Reforms”. This theme is aligned with global efforts towards facilitating trade, and is very much in accord with the outcomes of the World Trade Organization Ninth Ministerial Conference held in Bali in December 2013 and the conclusion of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
 

8.       Eight Forum member countries are members of the WTO, and the Pacific as a group is becoming more active in the WTO discussions. In this respect I would note that the Office of the Permanent Representative of the Pacific Islands Forum to the WTO has been working very closely with Forum island countries to assist them in identifying their trade facilitation needs for the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Our Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Mere Falemaka, is attending this meeting and is available to work with your delegations. Let me also say that we are deeply grateful to the Government of Australia, and European Union, for their funding assistance and support for the Forum Geneva Office.
 

9.       Improving trade facilitation will result in the reduction of the costs of doing business in the Pacific. At the same time, active promotion of trade opportunities for Pacific exporters is imperative as increased trade provides for greater prospects for investment, employment and economic growth in the region. The region has formulated a comprehensive Pacific Aid for Trade (AfT) Strategy for the period 2014 – 2017 through an extensive consultative process. This Strategy focuses on building the necessary trade infrastructure and the productive capacity of the private sector so that the region is able to trade effectively with the support of our development partners.
 

10.     Even for economies as small and remote as Kiribati, it has been possible for some of the new and innovative Pacific products to reach key markets. The export of sea salt to Japan, and of colorful aquarium clams and tuna jerky to buyers around the world are few Kiribati examples of what can be achieved.


Honourable Ministers,
 

11.     I am pleased to say that the network of Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PT&I) Offices has been working closely with the businesses in the region to assist them in their investment and export efforts. Admittedly, current work on trade and investment promotion needs to be intensified. We need to explore markets for new export products and services, and we need to expand to new markets. A comprehensive independent review of the PT&I network has confirmed the immense value of such a network. I take this opportunity to thank the Governments of Australia and New Zealand for their strong support of the PT&I system and their hosting and funding the offices in Sydney and Auckland. In similar manner, I thank the Peoples Republic of China, the European Union and Japan for their ongoing and kind support to hosting the PT&I Offices in Beijing, Geneva and Tokyo.
 

Honourable Ministers,
 

12.     The PACER Plus negotiations is, of course, a critical preoccupation among Forum member countries, and features prominently in your agenda. Considering the issues and challenges, we can say that on the whole we have made positive progress, with inter-sessional meetings intensifying, increased engagement with the non-state actors and consultations at the national level becoming more frequent. In fact, considerable work has been undertaken, in political policy terms and in a significant range of technical aspects. I congratulate and thank all member Governments and your delegations, with special acknowledgement for the Chief Trade Adviser and his office and the singular and the much appreciated role he has been able to play. We must push ahead with all this effort to pursue to finality a PACER Plus arrangement that will empower Pacific private sector and communities, and so that those who feel left out and vulnerable can benefit and are properly provided for. Such an arrangement should look to cover areas that can provide Forum island countries direct and immediate benefits with a good foundation for long term development. Support for improved trade promotion, trade facilitation, labour mobility and investment creation and development assistance appear to be areas of interest to all parties, which we should pursue.
 

13.     Let me also say that the Secretariat is pleased with the Leaders’ decision for Fiji at Ministerial level to take its rightful place in the PACER Plus negotiations and related Trade Ministers meetings and we look forward to that occurring at the earliest moment.


Honourable Ministers,


14.     Alongside PACER Plus, and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU, we need to become much more engaged and intensify the practical operations of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA). I firmly believe that there is real prospect and multiple opportunities for regional integration through PICTA, and with all seriousness I encourage the Forum island countries yet to finalise arrangements to accord PICTA preferences on trade in goods and services, to do so with urgency. If country assistance is required, I cannot be any clearer in saying that the Secretariat stands ready now to provide help and support. We need to also build momentum on the discussions on the mobility of our skilled and semi-skilled professionals within the region for the common development interests of our economies. I must also remind that currently we have only seven announcements declaring readiness to trade under PICTA - we need seven more; and so far we have just four ratifications for the PICTA Protocol on Services – and we require six to bring the Protocol in to effect.   


15.     With these words, I thank you for your kind attention and wish Hon Ministers worthwhile and fruitful discussions.

 

Thank you.

 

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