Delivered by Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
21 July 2021
The Honourable Faiyaz Siddiq Koya,
Senior Trade Officials and representatives of the diplomatic corp,
Representatives of regional and international organisations,
Private Sector Representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen
Greetings to you all from Auckland and I am pleased to welcome you to this validation workshop of the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap 2021-2026.
Indeed, your meeting today follows on from a very robust set of discussions this last week at the Trade and Economic Ministerial Meetings.
I was heartened to note the interest and appetite of our senior officials to explore and cease the innovative opportunities that emerge as we seek to propel economic recovery across the region.
Colleagues, the ongoing pandemic is shifting the world from analog to digital technology much faster than we anticipated and this has presented vast opportunities and challenges.
It is my hope that initiatives such as this Regional e-Commerce Strategy and Roadmap will help us navigate how best to leverage emerging opportunities.
In terms of trading, the COVID-19 pandemic has incentivised consumers and businesses to consider digital platforms as an opportunity to promote and facilitate business activities.
Indeed, the online shopping experience allows for variety on quality and options in a cost-effective manner. Further, online businesses can leverage innovative solutions that address the tyranny of distance we face here in the Pacific and propel access to bigger and more affluent markets.
As illustrated by UNCTAD, for example, while general retail sales in major economies stagnated in 2020, online sales increased in both absolute values and as a percentage of total sales, up to about 20%.
In saying so, I am also mindful that we have a way to go yet in terms of ensuring that we have the appropriate infrastructure and capacity to support digitalisation in our region.
COVID-19 has highlighted the challenges that our people face in the digital trade space. Challenges which range from, weak policy and regulatory environment, to poor logistics, difficult and costly access to online marketplaces, lack of trade facilitation practices for small parcels and limited and costly internet connectivity, just to name a few.
This Regional e-Commerce Strategy is a timely opportunity for us to prepare and move our region ahead in a coordinated and coherent manner.
I welcome the in-principle support of the Forum Trade Ministers of the draft Strategy before you today. And I warmly congratulate and acknowledge the significant effort that has gone into the development of this document, including the very comprehensive consultations that were facilitated.
The strategy before you is designed to respond to the challenges faced by our region and to improve its e-Commerce readiness. It focuses on those measures that can best be delivered through collective action, thus, complementing the national efforts and strategies that are in place.
Colleagues, with the completion of this Strategy, your meeting today also marks the end of a successful diagnostic and strategic four year initiative that has been made by possible through the support of a coalition of partners to whom I must acknowledge – the Australian Aid Program, the EU TradeCom Facility, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, and the United National Conference for Trade of Development.
I remain hopeful that we will see more opportunities for our members, technical agencies, and our donor community to work together to transform our Blue Pacific economy to deliver an accelerated economic growth that is inclusive and equitable.
I wish you well and look forward to the outcome of your deliberations.
I thank you.