Mr Kurt Tong, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of State
Mr Shaheen Ali, Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Industry, Trade & Tourism
Senior Officials from the Pacific Island Countries and United States of America
Business Leaders; and
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, it is my privilege to extend to you all a warm welcome to this regional workshop.
I thank you all for accepting our invitation to participate at this inaugural Pacific Island Countries – United States of America (U.S.) Regional Workshop on Trade, Investment and Private Sector Development. This event is kindly sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with support from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and the Pacific Islands Development Program at the East West Center.
This gathering of the captains of businesses and enterprises in the Pacific region along with our senior trade and fisheries officials, representatives of technical agencies, as well as other senior policy makers from the Pacific Island Countries and the U.S. provide an excellent opportunity to discuss practical win-win business opportunities, align expectations and determine areas of collaboration to strengthen our partnership in the area of trade and investment.
The U.S. remains a key trading partner for most Pacific island economies not only in the area of trade in goods but also in trade in services as well as labour mobility. One of the world’s largest Pacific Islands’ diaspora resides in the U.S. and consequently creates a lucrative market for Pacific Islands’ products. The recent trade statistics show that the U.S market absorbed 19% of Pacific Island Countries’ agricultural and processed food exports such as ginger, cocoa, coffee, tea, taro, cassava, yams, vanilla, fruit extracts among others. In 2013 alone, the United States accounted for 10% of Pacific Island Countries’ total exports of marine products. There is significant trade and investment opportunities between the US and the Pacific Island Countries which we need to effectively facilitate.
One of the key areas for discussion today will be building the capacity of Pacific exporters to take advantage of the U.S. Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) as well as addressing supply side constraints which impede the Pacific’s private sector from benefitting from the vast U.S.market. Historically, Pacific Island Countries have had a reputation for being relatively high cost locations for doing business. However, with advances in new technology, farming, manufacturing and other production methods, combined with the implementation of business friendly policies, Pacific Island Countries have taken big strides towards mitigating many of their inherent challenges. There is a paradigm shift in the Pacific’s way of doing business towards being more responsive to the needs of the private sector. One such example being the work undertaken on the Pacific Island Countries’ National Trade and Investment Policy Frameworks allowing for an inclusive approach in the broadest levels of engagement.
We need to create a platform through which the U.S. – Pacific Island Countries’ economic development engagement can flourish. The Pacific Island Countries have directed that the prospects for a development-oriented trade and investment arrangement with the U.S. be explored. In this regard, the Pacific region has completed a detailed study that outlines the additional benefits which the Pacific region could secure from such an arrangement. We will be seeking the views of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on this matter in due course. The Pacific side fully appreciates the policy challenges faced by the U.S. and the need for a phased process to take this initiative forward.
Pacific Island Countries have widened market access opportunities through regional trade agreements such as SPARTECA, the MSG Trade Agreement, and PICTA Trade in Goods and Services. PACER Plus and the Economic Partnership Agreement which are under negotiation are expected to provide Pacific investors with preferential market access opportunities to the Australia, New Zealand and European Union markets, in addition to other Pacific countries. A development oriented trade and investment arrangement between the Pacific Island Countries and the U.S., in addition to market access, would strengthen the capacity of Pacific Island Countries to comply with international standards on food safety, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements as well as addressing other non-tariff barriers to trade.
A key component of the work of the Secretariat is support for the Pacific Island Countries’ private sector through the Pacific Islands Trade and Invest (PT&I) network which seeks to promote Pacific islands exports to target markets and facilitate inward investments from those markets to Pacific Island Countries. With the PT&I presence in Australia, China, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand, consideration of the expansion of the network to also include the U.S. is a matter of high priority.
The discussions that will be held over the course of the next day and a half will provide feedback on how best we engage to strengthen the trade and investment relations between the Pacific Island Countries and the U.S., and whether to make such gatherings a regular consultation/dialogue in partnership with the U.S.
Ladies and gentlemen, over the course of this workshop you will have available to you key experts on SPS issues, food safety, agriculture, fisheries, standards, access to finance, the economic empowerment of women and Small to Medium Enterprises, amongst others. I urge you to make the most of the resources persons and information you will have available to you on these issues.
I am optimistic that the outcomes of this forum will provide a robust framework for the exchange of ideas and forge enduring partnerships in the areas of trade and investment as well as strengthen business relationships between Pacific Island Countries and the U.S.
I extend my sincere thanks to the Government of Fiji as the host country for this workshop; the U.S. government for its technical and financial support and to the Pacific Island Countries’ government officials and private sector representatives for setting aside your valuable time to participate at this meeting which is very much appreciated.
Thank you, and I wish you fruitful deliberations!