Mr Stephen Lyon, President, Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce
Ms Catherine Etuata Papani, Executive of the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation
Business Representatives and Members of the National Private Sector Organisations from the region
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very pleased to be with you this morning as we commence the week long discussions between the Economic and Trade Officials and Ministers, regional and international partners and yourselves on key finance, trade and economic development issues affecting the region.
This week’s discussions are centered on supporting the development of the private sector in the region and your role in driving trade, investment and economic growth and in contributing to the broader development agenda in the Forum Island Countries.
I acknowledge at the outset that many businesses, big or small, local or foreign, are directly involved in contributing towards our islands’ economic development. I thank you for your contribution.
Our economies in the Pacific islands are primarily driven by Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) which are the main source of private sector employment creation. MSMEs, many of which are currently operating in the informal sector and contributing very significantly to our economy, need to be supported.
I wish to focus on three specific messages to support MSMEs.
First, I encourage established businesses to support the nascent entities that are having a positive impact at the grassroots level. Whether is it a group of women who are producing local food, a community producing honey, or youth creating cultural items – they all need an outlet through which their products can be distributed. I urge businesses in the region to actively look out for these types of MSME operators and assist them in their businesses. Such operators provide employment in rural areas where formal employment may be scarce and as such, spread economic benefits to the people at grass root levels.
Second, I encourage businesses to think of markets beyond local boundaries. In relative terms, our markets in the islands are small and may not always provide the desired economies of scale for optimal profitability. That is why we need to actively seek the best options to grow our markets. Many MSMEs in the Pacific region have a range of products that can be part of the regional or global value chain and need support to market their products and services outside the local networks. As the Pacific engages in deeper regional integration, MSMEs need to be able to take advantage of the bigger markets that are created through the sub-regional and regional trade agreements. The time is right for the MSMEs to indicate what facilitative measures can assist them in their growth.
Third, I encourage businesses to engage in effective dialogue with relevant stakeholders in driving sustainable business growth in the region. For example, understanding the complex trading environment can be daunting and as such, specialised support should be provided to MSMEs with their transactions at the local and international levels. Commercial banks in the Forum Island Countries have a role, and so do agencies such as the Pacific Islands Trade & Investment network and other technical agencies that have direct interactions with the private sector in the region.
There is a clear recognition by the Forum of the importance of the private sector as an engine of sustainable growth in the region. The Secretariat has made every effort to support private sector development in the region including providing opportunities to interact with the regional decision makers and yes we can do more and better.
The Joint Economic and Trade Ministers Meeting with the Private Sector on Friday will be an excellent opportunity for you to take up key MSME issues, and other matters affecting the private sector, with the Ministers.
The Private Sector Dialogue with the Forum Leaders similarly allows you to highlight at the highest level key issues affecting the private sector in the region.
This Private Sector Dialogue Workshop in the margins of the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting provides you the opportunity to discuss issues and propose solutions for the consideration of the Ministers to the challenges you may be facing.
Further, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism through which the region establishes its core regional priorities has clearly identified the role of the Private Sector. The Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism (SSCR), the key body that evaluates all the submissions made through the FPR process and provides its recommendations to the Forum Leaders, includes a regional private sector representative.
The FPR rests on the belief that deeper regionalism will help increase socio-economic and development prospects, expand market opportunities, improve service delivery and contribute to security and good governance for the region. This year, Leaders agreed that the regional priorities would include their concerns regarding the people of West Papua, adding value to our fisheries resources, addressing Cervical Cancer, better integration of ICT in the region, and advocacy on the impact of Climate Change. Three of these 5 priorities have major private sector components.
We need to work together and work efficiently. Each time we have a private sector dialogue, we need to ensure that the right group of people participate so that we have robust discussions on the private sector issues that we seek collective solutions on.
We know what the challenges are. We know that some of you have found solutions that work for you. Please share those best practices with others. And more importantly, present a solid case to Governments when you have the opportunity later this week.
Finally, we would like to hear from you on how we can improve the PSD engagement so that we are effective in getting your messages to the decision makers, so that the private sector can effectively contribute to the development of the Pacific region.
I wish you well in your deliberations.