37TH Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting

24-25 OCTOBER 2006


Honourable Prime Minister of Fiji and In-coming Forum Chair, Hon Laisenia Qarase
The Out-going Forum Chair, Right Hon Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister
Forum Leaders
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me at the outset express our deepest appreciation to the Government and people of the Fiji Islands for agreeing to accept, at short notice, the responsibility of hosting the 37th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit. Prime Minister, the splendid arrangements and hospitality, which Fiji is well known for both in the region and around the world, is a manifestation of your government's commitment to regional cooperation.

2. Two thousand and six has been a busy year for the Forum and its Secretariat.

3. In particular, it has been the first year of implementation of the Pacific Plan, adopted by Leaders at their Port Moresby meeting in 2005, and certainly one of the most important and potentially far-reaching regional endeavours in recent years. The Committee of members , the Pacific Plan Action Committee- which has oversight of the implementation process  has been able to report very considerable progress in carrying forward the initiatives identified by the Plan, bearing in mind that this is a project which will extend over a number of years, which will build up over time and which, as it develops, may assume new shapes, methodologies and objectives. The key challenges which face us, if we are indeed to make this undertaking as effective and useful as we all wish it to be, have also been put before Leaders. Chief among these is the issue of fully translating the regional initiatives being developed into plans and actions at the national level. This will be a priority task for the coming year.

4. It is a task which will be tackled,is being tackled,in a range of ways. Through this year, we have begun the practice of placing Forum officers in our SIS member countries, to work closely with national officials to make those critical connections between the regional and the national. Leaders will have before them a proposal which might see the extension of this network to all of our members, perhaps the Pacific territories as well, this being one of a number of extensive recommendations arising from a Review, conducted through this year, of our Regional Institutional Framework that is; the means by which our existing regional bodies, commonly known as the CROP organisations, might work more closely together. Depending on how Leaders may decide to pursue it, this review may have a very significant impact on the way we do our regional business in the future. It would build on what is already a quite strong working relationship among the CROP organisations, a relationship bolstered this year as we have gone through the process of working out how the initiatives of the Pacific Plan are to be taken forward.

5. The past year has also seen a very considerable strengthening of our relationships with various of the region's key partners, through a number of Summit-type meetings, through the development of specific consultative arrangements and as they took steps to support us in the implementation of the Pacific Plan. We thank them for their willingness to come with us along the path we have taken and over the next year we look forward to adding more substance to the enhanced relationships already emerging. To this end, a review of the Post Forum Dialogue process, the central means of conducting business with our partners, has been completed and the Leaders will be looking at its recommendations.

6. In addition, our Leaders, recognising that many of the issues we have involve everyone in our region, have directed us to develop closer relationships with Pacific territories and entities which have been outside the Forum family. Leaders will have before them proposals aimed at forging those relationships, with New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis & Futuna. They will also consider proposals for strengthening relations' by means of the extension of observer status to international organisations  the United Nations, Commonwealth Secretariat, the Asian Development Bank with whom we already work closely.

7. All of this activity, this broadening of our compass, has as its sole objective the delivery of better services to our members. It is by that standard that we succeed or fail. That must always be our yardstick.

8. The progress made over the past year owes much to the Leadership of the Forum Chair, the Right Honourable Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare, and the strong support that he has enjoyed from Forum Leaders, member governments and many others who are represented here today; and the dedication of the staff at the Forum Secretariat. May I thank them all. And of the many people who are here today, may I single out just two, Ms Jacqueline Koroi, the President of the Pacific Youth Council and Ms Seletuta Visesio, its Vice President, are our special guests. We welcome them. They represent our region's future.

9. It goes without saying that the Secretariat will provide the very same support to the in-coming Chair, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of Fiji. The Secretariat will do all it can to ensure the job is done, and done well.