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Introductory Remarks at the Seminar on the Prospective Benefits of Membership in the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement for the Forum Island Countries by Shiu Raj, Director Economic Governance Programme

Seminar on the Prospective Benefits of Membership in
the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) for the Forum Island Countries
Friday, 16 May 2014
Tanoa International Hotel, Nadi, Fiji.

 

Introductory Remarks
by Mr Shiu Raj, Director Economic Governance Programme
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

 

Respected Ambassadors

Senior Government Officials

Representatives of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) – Director Dr. Ravi Ratanayke and Acting Head of Suva Office, Mr David Smith

Colleagues from regional organisations

Members of the media

Ladies and Gentlemen

1.      It is my honour and privilege to welcome you all on behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, to this seminar on Prospective Benefits of Membership in the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) for the Forum Island Countries.

2.      We are pleased about our partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in bringing to you this seminar to discuss the opportunities and challenges for the Pacific region to engage with the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement. I acknowledge the participation of Governments of Peoples Republic of China, India and the Republic of Korea in this seminar.

3.      A comprehensive study on the examination of the prospective benefits and challenges for the Forum Island Countries’ membership of the APTA is being undertaken and today’s seminar is the opportunity for the Members to discuss the merits of such as engagement. It is also an opportunity for the Forum island countries to consider areas of cooperation and capacity building for increased trade between the Pacific and Asia.

4.      The Pacific islands are inherently isolated from bigger markets due to its geography and remoteness.  However, a number of our economies have demonstrated that we can overcome this isolation by establishing strategic economic and transport links, and by empowering our private sector to reach markets that have been traditionally difficult to access. Over the years, we have witnessed how many preferential trade agreements have assisted our economies in building new and innovative trade links within the region and beyond.

5.      The South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA), the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), the Melanesian Spearhead Group Trade Agreement, and a number of bilateral Trade Agreements have helped our island economies gain tangible benefits from trade preferences. Some economies have complemented these trade agreements with specific incentives schemes to generate significant investments that have created employment and exports. These results are real and have a direct impact on the welfare of our people. Six of our Forum Island Countries are also Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Our advanced engagements in the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus with Australia and New Zealand are also expected to produce positive results once concluded.

6.      As the phenomenon of globalisation intensifies, and new markets opportunities are created, the Pacific region needs to fully engage in a timely manner to capitalise on these opportunities. The Forum Economic Ministers and Trade Ministers have placed a particular emphasis on the need for the Pacific island economies in realising the opportunities for progressing economic development and regional and inter-regional economic cooperation, especially with emerging Asian economies.

7.      The Forum Economic Ministers at their meeting in July 2013 recognised the importance of Asian economic growth and development, and noted the opportunities available to Forum Island Countries. Economic Ministers have encouraged focussed engagement with emerging Asia to overcome constraints to growth in Forum Island Countries: for instance, sourcing infrastructure investment to support sectoral development in agriculture, fisheries, and tourism to improve economic returns.

8.      In November 2013, the Second China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum was held in Guangzhou, China where the Leaders announced significant undertakings to strengthen cooperation for economic development. At the recent Ministers meeting in April 2014, the Pacific ACP States have agreed to pursue a formal trading arrangement with China to improve Pacific islands’ market access in the Chinese economy coupled with development cooperation initiatives.

9.      Trade Agreements alone are not the sufficient and necessary conditions to stimulate economic development. They need to be supported by specific initiatives that stimulate investments, export creation and elimination of barriers to trade. But the current market dynamics is already providing significant opportunities and some of our private sector entities are quite deeply engaged in trade transactions with businesses in Asia.

10.  Our Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PT&I) network of offices has presence in Beijing, and in Tokyo, to create synergies and improve trade, tourism and investment relations with emerging Asian economies. The expertise available through the PT&I network of offices, which is also located in Auckland, Sydney and a desk in Geneva helps in promoting the Pacific island economies for increased exports, investments and tourism. The PT&I network is expected to expand over time to cover new markets. For example, the interest shown by India in supporting the Pacific islands build closer economic ties would augur well in the expansion of the PT&I network into India. The increasing trade between Korea and the Pacific islands provides an opportunity for a PT&I presence in Seoul. These are real engagements that we need to pursue if we are serious about connecting the Pacific to Asia. Pacific islands have direct flight connections to Asian countries such as Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan, Japan and we need to build on these linkages to expand trade.

11.  Integrating Forum economies, both regionally and internationally, and building closer economic linkages with larger economic blocs, such as Asia – Pacific, are viable options in overcoming the idiosyncratic challenges of limited market size of the Pacific islands.

12.  The Pacific Plan, the current master plan for regionalism in the Pacific, is currently undergoing a review process and a new Framework of Pacific Regionalism is being developed. There is a continuing appetite for regionalism across Pacific island countries. Advancing greater integration will require a stronger commitment supported by a process that reflects the crucial role of true drivers such as trade. We have laid strong foundation in the form of PICTA which now includes trade in goods and services, and plans are in place for it to be broadened to include mobility of skilled and semi-skilled professionals.

13.  The growing in-bound tourism into the Pacific from Asia testifies to the opportunities for trade in services and people to people linkages, an area that requires strengthening for improved connectivity and increased business to business engagement. The Forum Island Countries have key comparative advantage in sectors such as tourism and fisheries, with some of our economies thriving in the minerals, forestry and agriculture sector with niche products.

14.  Let me conclude by saying that there is real economic opportunity for closer relations between Asia and the Pacific. The need for the Pacific islands to capitalise on the opportunities from the rise of Asian economies is clearly acknowledged. Today’s seminar will assist us in understanding the opportunities that may become available to the Pacific region if we pursued engagement with the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement. While we need to be pragmatic on what can be achieved through such an engagement, we also need to be strategic. If indeed we are now in the century belonging to Asia, then we need to be closer than ever to Asia, for the sake of our socio-economic development.

15.  I wish you well in your deliberations. Thank you very much.

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