Speech by Outgoing Forum Chair, Sir Michael Somare in Tonga
16 OCTOBER 2007

• Your Majesty, King George Tupou V,
• Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele and Cabinet Ministers,
• Members of the Tongan Parliament and the people of the Kingdom of Tonga
• My fellow Forum Leaders
• Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat
• Members of the Diplomatic Corps
• Representatives of Post-Forum Dialogue Partners
• Distinguished guests
• Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the Leaders of the Pacific Island Forum and our spouses, and the delegates of the 38th Pacific Island Forum, I would like to express sincere gratitude to Your Majesty King George Tupou V, and the Government and people of the Kingdom of Tonga, for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to us since our arrival to your friendly isles.

Today’s opening ceremony has shown the richness of your tradition and culture, and we hope to have the opportunity to see more of your beautiful country before we depart these shores.

May I sidetrack for a moment to congratulate the Tongan Rugby Team for its fantastic performance at the International Rugby World Cup. You have certainly done your country and the region proud.


As we tackle the pressing issues before us this week, we should remind ourselves of the need to be unified in our approach.

Two years ago, the Pacific Plan was officially endorsed by Forum Leaders at the 36th Pacific Island Forum Meeting held in Papua New Guinea. I note that positive progress has been made in implementing its aspirations despite the challenges outlined in the 2007 Pacific Plan Annual Progress Report. Our members, the region’s technical agencies and development partners have been working consistently to implement the Plan’s broad objectives, as well as the decisions of the 37th Forum in Nadi last year.

The Pacific Plan is an ambitious undertaking, but we must strive to fully realise the related benefits that we, as Forum Leaders, have envisaged for our peoples. The ultimate objective of our regional cooperative efforts has always been to better their lives and well-being. We have embarked on a challenging task of pooling our resources to make a genuine difference at the country-level. Our countries have generally been able to demonstrate the capacity to help each other, and we must continue to foster the reservoir of goodwill and understanding that prevails among us.

Having said this let me throw a word of caution. Our good intentions will come to naught, if our actions are not predicated on respect for the sovereignty of each of our member states.

During the course of this week, we will make decisions on the 2008 priority areas for implementation under the Pacific Plan based on recommendations presented by the Pacific Plan Action Committee. The Committee has submitted several key priority areas for consideration, including fisheries, energy, trade and economic integration, climate change and transport.

Our trade agenda has occupied much of our time, as issues surrounding the ongoing negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) have intensified and become more complex. Preparations are underway for preliminary discussions on PACER Plus, scheduled for early next year. The Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM) agenda has significantly grown, as have our efforts to advance policy advice and activities across all pillars of the Pacific Plan – namely, Economic Growth, Sustainable Development, Good Governance and Security.

The Forum Eminent Persons’ Report on the events in Fiji will be pertinent to our discussions as will be the advice presented by the Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group. I note that our foreign ministers met early this year in Port Vila, Vanuatu and discussed the situation in Fiji, a member of our family of island nations. It is important that we all work together in the usual Pacific Way to find a way forward in the best interest of the people of Fiji.

A member of our family needs our understanding and assistance to bring it back to the fold. We would not be doing justice to our objectives if we sought solely punitive action for a member of the family.

Our deliberations on the work of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) will also be of vital importance. Many of the Forum members have contributed to RAMSI because of their keen and genuine desire to help the people of the Solomon Islands. That desire has not waned and we remain committed.

Our regional efforts to help will be greatly strengthened if we continue to enjoy the support of the host government. Areas of discord in the conduct of RAMSI must be addressed seriously.

Deliberations on improving our existing regional institutional architecture to support the efforts of member countries meet present and future challenges is also of great importance to us.

Your Majesty, Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the work of the Forum has clearly been amplified over recent years, as have our demands on the Forum Secretariat. I would therefore like to sincerely thank the Secretary General and his staff for their continued efforts. I also extend thanks to our regional technical agencies and members of the development community for their on-going comment and support.

As PNG’s term as Interim-Forum Chair comes to an end, I would like to extend my best wishes to the Kingdom of Tonga and Prime Minister, Sevele as the incoming Forum Chair. I would like to thank all my colleague leaders for giving me their unreserved support and cooperation in the last two years.

May the 38th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting be productive and reflective of our aspirations of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity for our region.

Thank you.