Lord Tu’ilakepa, Member of Parliament, Legislative Assembly of Tonga
Honourable Members of Parliaments from the region, and Ambassadors
Members of the private sector and civil society organisations
Representatives of Development partners, and technical agencies
Senior Government Officials
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Comprehensive Consultation on Pacific Trade. I am pleased to see such good attendance with an excellent mix of representation to discuss matters relating to trade in the Pacific.
I would like to particularly acknowledge the presence of a number of Parliamentarians who have accepted our invitation to be part of these consultations. In the course of your work, you scrutinise and guide trade policies to optimise the positive impact of trade on development in your respective economies.
Regional economic integration including through trade-led growth that is sustainable and which reaches all our people remains a high priority for the Forum. We are committed to achieving improvements in our collective wealth and prosperity, and positive growth in our region. And equitable region-wide trade and investment frameworks are a practical means to this end.
Trade and commerce must be undertaken in a responsible and inclusive manner. We can see the world over the consequences of irresponsible and shortsighted policy making – crumbling economies, massive job losses, and even regional disintegration. The very opposite of what we are promoting in the region. Your role as vigilant observers, committed practitioners, and diligent policy makers is important.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of any economy, and more so in the Pacific islands. Business structures that allow our smaller and micro-businesses to flourish as part of our efforts to distribute wealth equitably in the Pacific islands are an important component.
Our geographic isolation and the associated high cost of participation in international trade are our major structural constraints. The consultations earlier in the week have discussed how more efficient, transparent and predictable border procedures will create an enabling environment for cross-border trade and investment that would significantly benefit countries and businesses of all sizes, but most notably for SMEs.
Another highlight has been the opportunities available for increased trade within the region, and also for the region to engage in South-South trade that has been growing significantly. This is an area of trade that I strongly encourage the traders to pursue.
I recognise that discussions on trade in our region have not been without controversy. But in my visits to Forum member countries and in my meetings with Leaders, economic development remains uppermost. And our Leaders have consistently agreed on the fundamental contribution of trade to economic growth.
Let me assure you that the region’s drive for economic growth and trade is very much grounded in sustainable economic growth and an inclusive process. This includes ensuring that our women, our youth and our actors in the informal sectors are part of inclusive solutions for growth.
Today’s event is a testimony of the comprehensiveness of our consultations, with the presence of the private sector, the engine of growth, as well as civil society representatives, the voice of our communities and vulnerable groups. We also have senior officials, the policy makers who facilitate the enabling framework for trade and investment.
In a broader context, Pacific Leaders have instituted an inclusive Framework for Pacific Regionalism through which we are able to invite every individual and community from the Pacific to voice what they think should be the priorities that our Leaders need to focus on.
This being the first year of implementation of the Framework, we received an impressive set of sixty-eight submissions from various groups and individuals that represent people from all walks of life.
These proposals have been considered by a Specialist Sub-Committee Regionalism which includes private sector and civil society representatives. Specific initiatives are being proposed for the Pacific Leader’ consideration at their meeting in three weeks.
You would have seen media coverage of the specific initiatives which includes increased economic returns from fisheries, the most important shared resource of Pacific Island countries.
A joint gathering of Forum Economic Ministers, Trade Ministers and the Private Sector will be held in the week of 26 October 2015 in the Cook Islands. Their discussions will focus on how the Pacific region can leverage the engagement of the private sector in economic development.
The series of meetings this week are well-timed to introduce specific topics for discussions at the forthcoming meetings, and importantly, to determine the priority trade solutions we need to focus on to address the Pacific Islands countries’ development needs.
The Forum therefore welcomes the complementary presentations and dialogue that will ensue during this two-day consultation on the range of trade initiatives that are being pursued in the region. I encourage you to suggest options that will guide trade-related policies for positive development impact.
I wish you the very best in your deliberations and thank you again for your presence at these consultations.