Opening remarks, Pacific Islands Forum SG Henry Puna
Forum Economic Officials Meeting, FEOM 2021
6 and 7th July, 2021
Thank you Chair of the Forum Economic Officials Meeting
Excellencies and Senior Economic Officials
Representatives of our Development Partners
Ladies and Gentlemen – good morning, Kia Orana, and greetings from cold Wellington!
We sure live in some very challenging times. The last 18 months have been, perhaps, one of the toughest periods for our region, for our countries and most especially, our peoples.
We have had to contend with a global pandemic that has shut down major sectors of our island economies and plummeted us into unprecedented levels of debt and growing inequality.
We continue to face, head-on, the devastating impacts of climate change on our people and on our livelihoods.
And we are constantly forced to navigate an increasingly complex geo-political environment even as we confront our own differences here amongst ourselves, in our region.
Yes, these are unprecedented times, but there is good news. While we are living in some very difficult times these challenges are not insurmountable.
This meeting is an opportunity for us to have a robust collective discussion on forward- looking and innovative, collective solutions that can inspire and propel economic recovery across our Blue Pacific Continent.
This is an opportunity for you, as Senior Officials and Economic Advisers to your Governments, to reflect on how best we can use our collective strength to negotiate better terms for our economies at the global level.
Excellencies, Senior Officials, it is no secret that we are facing a debt crisis. One that has been exacerbated by the pandemic and its devastating impacts on our economies. Indeed, across the region, we have seen substantive increases in debt levels as Governments have fought to combat the economic and health fall-out of the pandemic.
I urge you all to use this meeting to find a workable way forward, and furthermore, to collectively discuss how best we can work together to ignite much-needed reforms to the international debt architecture.
Personally, I have always held fast to the value and importance of conversation and dialogue – indeed, I believe this is the only way we can exchange and share views and more importantly, learn from each other.
At this time, with our region pushing through some of the most defining challenges in our history, we must hold fast to each other. We must move forward together.
The outlook is bleak. The IMF predicts a negative economic outlook for the region in 2021. GDP forecasts across our Pacific economies reflect this decline while public debt, as mentioned earlier, continues to increase.
Pacific businesses, big and small, have all felt the impacts of COVID-19. Indeed, for some of our members, tourism—our lifeblood, has come to a standstill.
Our fisheries industry, particularly the tuna longline fishery, is on life support. Manufacturing sectors have contracted across all members.
And on the climate front, we need immediate and urgent adaptation and mitigation actions and strategies to address our special and unique circumstances here in the Pacific.
Access to and mobilisation of financial resources from our international development partners continues to be a challenge.
But this must not stop us from being proactive, to innovate and develop home- grown solutions for the good of our Blue Pacific Continent and our people.
Indeed, the Pacific Resilience Facility continues to be a stellar example of what we can achieve together if only we put our minds to it and collectively inspire solutions that address our unique circumstances.
Excellencies, Senior Officials, I encourage you all to make the most of your discussions over the next two days and develop a solid set of recommendations for our Ministers to consider, this time next week.
In closing, as this is my first Forum Economic Officials meeting as Secretary General, I wish to offer some words of encouragement. We the Pacific people, are resilient people. We have faced many challenges in our history, and we have always fought back, and won back. I believe that now is no exception. We will fight back, together, and we will win back, together.
I would like to especially acknowledge the importance of your work at these pre-ministerial meetings. Your efforts are shaping the very future of our region.
On this note, I wish you all successful deliberations, and look forward to the outcomes of your meeting.
Vinaka vakalevu, I thank you.
–Checked against Delivery.