Forums such as the Pacific Update are important for this region. They provide the opportunity for a convergence of stakeholders to support policy making and implementation, through the provision of information and advice that is grounded in research and analysis, and through the scrutiny of policy on issues of importance to our region.
At a time where the challenges that we face in the Pacific are increasingly existential in nature, our policy responses need to be informed by evidence and rigorous analysis. As such, the link between the policy and research communities needs to be stronger than it has ever been.
The themes of this conference: Promoting Blue Green Economy; Enhancing Connectivity; Accessible Employment reflect the major regional policy issues as well as the theme of the Forum Leaders Meeting this year in Samoa. Those who may have heard Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s speech at the UN Oceans Conference last week may be familiar with the concept of the “Blue Pacific”.
In short, the Blue Pacific seeks to re-capture the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean, based on an explicit recognition of our shared “ocean identity”, “ocean geography”, and “ocean resources”. It aims to strengthen collective action as one “Blue Pacific Continent” by putting “The Blue Pacific” at the centre of policy making and collective action for advancing the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Vision for our Region.
To reiterate my earlier comments, evidence and informed analysis is vital for the development of sound policy, so I commend the organisers for hosting the Pacific Update, particularly here at our regional university. It is a welcome opportunity for the convergence of regional policy and research communities, and this event will only serve to strengthen the advice that we provide to Leaders.
The Regional Context
Let me turn to the regional context, provide a backdrop for these remarks and set the scene for the discussions to come over the next few days.
For almost five decades, the independent countries of the Pacific have addressed common interests through a variety of regional, and increasingly sub-regional, approaches. The motivation for this is simple: We know that we can achieve more together, than alone.
The geopolitical and development context of the Pacific has shifted and the region faces a range of external and internal factors that are acting to reshape it, including increasing plurality of regional actors, shifts in global power, and unmet development challenges. Such factors spur us to re-think the form that Pacific regionalism needs to take in order to address our complex contemporary challenges, including poverty, non-communicable diseases, social inequities, gender issues and our unique vulnerabilities and dependencies.
Successfully and sustainably addressing these issues is no easy task. Many of these challenges are not new and have in fact persisted despite our best collective efforts to date. And whilst regionalism cannot be blamed for this state of affairs, we nonetheless need to ensure we maximize opportunities where working together as a region can make a difference. This commitment must not only be displayed at the global level, where we are doing very well, but we must be committed to working together in our own region.
Pacific Island Leaders have nonetheless recognized the need for a new inclusive and game changing approach to Pacific regionalism. A regionalism that can not only realize the unmet development needs of Pacific Island peoples, but also meet the demands of the new global development paradigm.
It is this new Pacific regionalism that I would like to talk about today. At the heart of this new approach is an emphasis on inclusive and robust policy development and implementation, as well as recognition of the political dimension for ensuring development outcomes for the Pacific.
Pacific Island Leaders have recognized that Pacific Regionalism now, and into the future, must be adaptable, innovative, inclusive, and most importantly, it must positively impact the lives of our people. Indeed, if our collective actions do not impact positively on the lives of the people of the Pacific then we have not succeeded.
Pacific Island Forum Leaders have responded to these challenges through the endorsement of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism in 2014.It is through the Framework that I believe we are in the early and formative stages of what is a new era for Pacific regionalism. One that will strengthen our ability to chart our own destiny.
As Secretary General to the Pacific Islands Forum, the Framework – its vision, values and objectives – is the regional lens through which we support Pacific island countries to achieve the Leaders’ vision for this region.
It’s critical to understand that the Framework is not a development plan or agenda. Rather, it expresses the political ambition of our Leaders’ to navigate the Pacific through the global and regional geopolitical forces that impact on our region’s ability to achieve development impact for its people.
The Framework emphasizes that the regional agenda must be determined by Pacific people themselves, not regional and international organizations, not donors, but Leaders and their people.
Regionalism has to be adaptable so that it can respond to those individuals, communities and countries who are vulnerable, fragile and in need of development opportunities.
Regionalism must be innovative in identifying the areas in which it can have the greatest impact. It must be innovative and responsive in how it engages with Pacific people to address those areas. And it must be innovative in responding to issues in ways that will ensure the best development outcomes.
Pacific Regionalism has to be inclusive so that we have access to the breadth of experience and insight that exists in our people. It has to be inclusive to make sure that it impacts on those in our communities who are most in need. It has to be inclusive because only by looking at the whole picture can we identify where we might make the most profound impact.
For the past two years we have developed and implemented a regional public consultation process – driven by the submission of regional policy ideas from the public, and with the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism playing a central role to make recommendations to Leaders around which issues require Leaders attention.
I am proud that we have been able to institute a process of public consultation that helps to inform regional policy making – and to me this responds to one of the key concerns emanating from the Pacific Plan Review.
Another key initiative the Secretariat has implemented during the last two Forum meetings is a dialogue between the Forum Troika and regional civil society organisations. Reinforcing the value of this dialogue, the Samoan Prime Minister has undertaken to involve all Forum Leaders when they meet in Apia in September this year.
Therefore, the newly emerging wave of regionalism maintains a people-centred lens and Pacific control of a regional agenda, it fosters wider political engagement, and manoeuvres creatively through and around structures with the common goal of improving the lives of our Pacific peoples.
Further, and of particular importance, the Framework places strong emphasis on the fact that achieving impact requires us to work together, not just as states, but in ways that include all actors in the region.
Evidence Based Policy Making
In addition to this principle of inclusivity, evidence and informed analysis is also critical to the development and implementation of sound regional policy.
While we have established closer links with civil society and the private sector over the past few years, we must broaden our engagement to include the research community. We at the Forum Secretariat, who are responsible for the development of regional policy must engage with the research community and ensure that the advice that we furnish on Forum Leaders is based on evidence and on informed analysis.
Starting with USP, I would welcome a regularised, process for greater engagement and interaction with the research community. In addition, I will charge my staff to begin a more regular engagement with research institutions, as part of our policy making processes.
The Forum Secretariat is developing a report that provides Members and other stakeholders with a contextual analysis of the region. This State of Regionalism report will provide foundational information on the region, upon which Leaders can make informed policy decisions. We have engaged with researchers and academics in the preparation of this document, and as we revise and update it into the future, we will continue to remain engaged with the research community.
In the areas in which we have technical carriage, we must continue to draw on evidence and informed analysis. Gender, Peace and Conflict, Trade, Private Sector Development, Development and Climate Finance, Governance – we must do more to draw on research and analysis as we carry out this work.
And I look forward to this convergence of research and policy allowing us to develop more ‘home grown’ solutions to our enduring challenges. Let me share two examples of such responses to our challenges.
One example is in our current work in developing a regional finance facility. This concept was tabled for Forum Economic Ministers earlier this year, and we will continue to refine it so that it meets the expectations of our Member Countries.
A second example relates to the unique vulnerabilities faced by the Pacific being the basis for certain privileges in accessing development financing. One important way that such privileges are determined is through fragility assessments undertaken by multilateral donors where the definition of fragility has been limited to that of conflict states.
In late 2015, the Forum Chair the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea wrote to the World Bank requesting a redefinition of fragility to include the recognition of climatic vulnerabilities. Discussions with the Multilateral Development Banks on this issue are ongoing.
These two examples demonstrate the increasing innovation in our responses to the challenges we face. And in both instances, we have relied on research and informed analysis in developing our responses.
Beyond our own policy remit at the Forum Secretariat, we need to ensure that the work of our implementing partners – including our fellow CROP agencies – is also underpinned by evidence and analysis that is relevant to our region.
To close, let me reiterate a few key points. Firstly, regionalism is essential in the Pacific to help us respond to the enduring challenges that we face. But regionalism must be impactful and responsive. The concept of the Blue Pacific offers a powerful new narrative around which we may organize and develop key regional policy and action for the collective benefit of our people.
On this new concept of the Blue Pacific, I should register my optimism in its potential, particularly its potential to mobilise attention and energy. Our efforts over the past two years to generate momentum around regional issues, around regionalism in general has been rather difficult. But from my perspective, I see the possibilities in our cohering around this concept, and I am excited by the potential.
Lastly, let me also reiterate the central theme of my remarks today – that we must make better use of research and informed analysis to develop regional policy. From this perspective, I recognize the importance of events such as the Pacific Update within our broader policy making processes, and wish you all the best over the next few days. And we look forward to some tangible and useful outcomes.