Delivered by Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
15 July 2021
Forum Chair the Honourable Mr. Faiyaz Koya, Minister of Commerce Trade Transport and Tourism, Government of Fiji
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Heads of CROP agencies
Members of the Media
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour to be welcoming you all to the 2021 Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting – my first in my capacity as Secretary-General.
Whilst I would have hoped that we were convening this meeting face-to-face, I do recognise that we should not allow our current circumstance to stop us from progressing our collective priorities.
Honourable Ministers, your meeting today builds on a very successful series of Officials’ Meeting in this last week and follows on from a robust Forum Economic Ministers Meeting which concluded yesterday.
Indeed, the last 18 months have been, perhaps, one of the toughest periods for our region, for our countries and most especially, our people.
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 our livelihoods.
And we are constantly forced to navigate an increasingly complex geo-political environment whilst at the same time, confront our own differences here amongst ourselves in our region.
Honourable Ministers, I would encourage us all to use this opportunity today to engage in frank discussions about our collective efforts in trade and development and in considering how best trade can be a vehicle to “build back better” through resilient and sustainable economies.
I am under no illusion that the rebuilding of our economies will be an easy task. The pandemic continues to carve a devastating impact on the Pacific region as a result of the economic fall-out from the implementation of containment measures taken by Pacific ACP States.
Despite this, we have continued to make great strides in progressing the trade decisions from 2020. I am particularly encouraged by the progress made on the priorities identified in the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy – our 5-year blueprint for regional trade.
Honourable Ministers, I encourage us all to use this meeting as an opportunity to exchange views, share knowledge and build on each other’s experiences. By the same tenor, I invite you to be bold and innovative as we collectively explore opportunities that will better position our region, moving forward. These include the need to comprehensively review and evaluate our existing and potential trade agreements to ensure that they are coherent and fit for purpose vis a vis our regional trade and development context and related priorities.
At the global level, we have and continue to see the rise in protectionist policies, violations of the rules and norms of free trade agreements.
Now, more than ever, we need to strengthen and reform the multilateral trading system. The World Trade Organization (WTO) remains critical not only for the growth and development of the global economy, but also the management of an increasingly interconnected trading system.
To that end, I call on you, Honourable Ministers, to remain engaged as we move towards concluding the negotiations on the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement to be endorsed at the 12th Ministerial Conference in December 2021.
With those few words, Honourable Ministers, I wish you well in your deliberations.
I thank you.