Thank you, Minister Pato, and good morning Honourable Ministers, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to deliver these comments on behalf of the Secretary-General, Dame Meg Taylor, who is unable to attend this meeting. The Forum Secretariat like to congratulate Minister Pato and the Government of Papua New Guinea for the warm welcome extended to all APEC Members and Observers for the MRT.
As one of the few APEC economies which is also a Member of the Pacific Islands Forum, we very much appreciate the efforts of Papua New Guinea to find links between our respective agendas, including the focus on the digital agenda.
The Framework for Pacific Regionalism guides the work of PIF’s 18 Members as we pursue our Leaders’ vision for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity.
As the Honourable Minister Pato noted, Forum Leaders have endorsed the “Blue Pacific” identity as the core driver of collective action to advance regionalism across our vast and diverse group of Pacific Islands.
This narrative seeks to capture the collective potential of the region’s shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean and one of our leading considerations is connectivity.
This includes not only how we connect within our Continent, but connect with others across the globe. In keeping with the theme of APEC, this connectivity pertains to digital technology, air and sea transport, and people to people links.
Due to the remoteness of our member countries, connectivity is a critical issue. And because of our geography, almost all of our air and sea transport and digital data must pass through an APEC economy for us to connect with the rest of the world.
Multilateral Trade System
We appreciated the DG’s report and discussions yesterday on the WTO. Our region is concerned about the recent protectionist trends in the global economy. Forum Members attach great importance to the effective operation of the WTO and support APEC’s efforts to ensure that the multilateral trading system remains open, transparent and non-discriminatory.
We had the pleasure of hosting the WTO DG in the region this week, and took advantage of his visit to highlight some of the issues which affect SIDS, especially for our Members who are highly vulnerable to disasters from natural hazards and climate change.
PICs are highly supportive of the WTO and are actively engaged in WTO work on fisheries subsidies, trade facilitation and other areas.
We reiterate the call from the DG and some Members to meet the 2019 deadline for a fisheries subsidies agreement, as agreed at MC11 in support of SDG 14.6.
As one of the main natural resources in our region, PIF Leaders have prioritised the fisheries sector for growth and employment and we have a strong interest in ensuring that our resources are sustainably managed.
The APEC region contains many of the world’s leading fishing nations, and leading subsidisers of the fishing industry, and we call on APEC to take a leadership role to achieve a WTO deal on disciplining fisheries subsidies.
We welcome Papua New Guinea’s focus on the digital economy. The geographical remoteness of FICs, and the small size of our markets, makes it difficult for businesses in our region to successfully engage in international trade, especially for MSMEs and women-owned enterprises.
E-Commerce has the potential to offer partial relief to the structural constraints experienced by PICs. But it’s important to note that for e-commerce that relies on the physical delivery of goods, our Members still face significant hurdles linked to the cost, time and unpredictability of transporting goods by air and sea.
During the past 10 years, PICs have made great efforts to improve access to, and the use of, ICTs. Efforts have been focussed on building the ICT Infrastructure, including through structural reform of the sector and deployment of undersea fibre-optic cables.
In 2015 Forum Leaders declared ICT as one of the five political priorities for the Pacific region. As of today, 10 of our Forum island Members (Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu) are connected to submarine cables.
This number is growing, including through support from some APEC economies. However, it’s important to note that some of our Members do not yet have access to submarine cables and, even in countries that are connected, many people live in outlying islands with limited Internet connectivity.
To unleash the potential for e-Commerce, PIFS is promoting the development of a regional e-Commerce Policy. We hope that this policy can identify priority areas for regional engagement and perform a similar function to APEC’s Internet and Digital Economy Roadmap.
Trade and Investment
Our Members are seeking greater engagement with Asia and, in April 2017, Forum Economic Ministers directed the Secretariat to develop a Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Framework for interaction with Asian economies.
PIFS has developed a “Blue Pacific Investment Framework” which seeks to engage Asia-Pacific partners in building trade, investment, finance and other forms of economic cooperation for mutual benefit.
Our region will host the next Asia Pacific Business Forum to be held in Port Moresby in 2019. This is the premier business event of UN ESCAP and has never been held in the Pacific Islands region.
We hope this Forum will bring financiers, investors and policy makers to our region to build stronger linkages for the promotion of trade, investment and tourism.
Business mobility has also been identified by our private sector as an important priority. Some of our Members and businesses have suggested that PIF should look to establish a business travel card modelled on the APEC approach. We would welcome opportunities to cooperate with APEC and its Members on ways to implement mechanisms for enhanced business mobility.
Finally, on the matter of climate resilience and disaster risk which are critical issues affecting our region’s ability to trade.
PIFS’ approach to these issues is governed by the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP), a regional strategy that promotes low-carbon, highly-resilient development pathways.
This week, we hosted the first meeting of the Pacific Resilience Partnership Taskforce at our headquarters in Suva. Some APEC Economies are represented on our Regional Taskforce and we encourage others to funnel their support through this mechanism.
We note the importance of trade in assisting developing countries meet their obligations under international frameworks, such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, and the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
We also call on development partners to provide scaled-up, predictable financial resources to vulnerable developing economies to adapt to climate change and improve private sector engagement.
We’d like to thank Papua New Guinea once again for its warm welcome and excellent arrangements for this MRT meeting. And we invite you all to take advantage of this year’s APEC to discover the Pacific Islands Countries.
*Statement delivered by Mr Ben Czapnik, Advisor with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.