Opening Remarks by Henry Puna, Secretary General of the PIF at the Forum Dialogue Partners Briefing on the Outcomes from Forum Ministerial Meetings
Delivered on 29 July 2021
Excellencies and Officials of Forum Dialogue Partners,
It is an honour to meet with you all today, my first time as Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum. Entrusted to me by the Leaders of the Forum, the Secretary General role is one that I do not take lightly, and I look forward to working with you all, in support of Forum Leaders’ regional priorities.
The purpose of today’s meeting is to brief you on the outcomes of recent Forum Ministerial Meetings, and to invite your support for key initiatives. This includes COVID-19 response and recovery measures; climate change action and the Pacific Resilience Facility; maritime boundaries and sea-level rise; and trade facilitation.
Ahead of this, I wanted to briefly set out the importance I place on the Forum’s Dialogue Partner relationships; highlight key opportunities and challenges I see before us as a region; and invite your thoughts on how we can best engage with you, our partners.
Approach to partnerships
Excellencies, thirty-two years ago, our Forum Leaders were visionary in setting up the Forum Dialogue Partner mechanism, to strengthen dialogue and engagement with countries that have significant cooperation and interests in our region.
Starting initially with five founding partners, today we have 18 Forum Dialogue Partners from across the globe, and another three partners being considered by Forum Leaders.
As Secretary General, let me reaffirm my strong belief in the importance of the Forum’s international partnerships, if we are to achieve our Leaders’ vision of a region of peace, harmony, security, inclusion and prosperity.
While we want to ensure the Pacific region very much leads its own development future, we know we cannot do this in isolation.
Many of the challenges facing our region are transboundary in nature, from COVID-19, climate change, and the health of our ocean. Effective international cooperation is therefore critical to the future of our region.
International partnerships are also critical to tackle the inherent development challenges and vulnerabilities we face including through development financing, capacity building, knowledge and technology transfer, and south-south cooperation.
And at the same time, I believe our Blue Pacific region has much to offer our international partners. This includes our thriving cultures, our valuing and knowledge of the ocean, our marine resources, and success in international advocacy when we work as a collective.
Excellencies, let me emphasise that I am a firm believer of the power of talking and sharing, to resolve any issues and to achieve our goals. Indeed, the very values underpinning our Forum include a commitment to effective, open, and honest relationships and inclusive and enduring partnerships—based on mutual accountability and respect.
Acting in accordance with this value is my firm commitment to you, and I hope, as Forum Dialogue Partners, you can commit likewise.
Regional opportunities and challenges
Excellencies, when it comes to my priorities as Secretary General, I am very much focused on the political challenges facing the Forum’s membership. Under the guidance of our Forum Chair and Leaders, I am hopeful that the political dialogue currently underway, based on our Pacific Way of talanoa, will allow us to understand and discuss issues and resolve disagreements as one Forum family.
For the longer term, our Forum Leaders have recognised that securing the future of the Blue Pacific required a long-term vision, a carefully considered strategy for regionalism, and collective commitment, to achieve it.
It was on this basis that Leaders endorsed the development of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent – to further the region’s commitment to work as one region, consistent with the principles and objectives of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
When it is endorsed by Leaders later this year, the 2050 Strategy will represent our long-term pathway to deepened regional cooperation. It will reflect our shared strategic interests, as the Blue Pacific. It will also frame our future partnerships and collaboration.
Excellencies, the Member-led committee developing the 2050 Strategy will be reaching out to Forum Dialogue Partners for consultation in the coming months. I encourage your active involvement and support for this critical Strategy that will shape the future of our Blue Pacific region.
Opportunities to better engage our partners
In closing, let me highlight some of the work underway to strengthen the Forum’s partnerships.
As you will likely know, the Forum has developing revised, and more comprehensive, criteria and guidelines for Forum Dialogue Partners. These were considered by Forum Foreign Ministers when they met on Tuesday, and our Director of Governance and Engagement will provide you with an update on next steps at today’s briefing.
Over the medium term, Forum Leaders have called for a Review of the Regional Architecture to ensure effective institutions, mechanisms and partnerships to deliver on the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. We will ensure Forum Dialogue Partners can contribute to this review, once initially shaped by Forum Members.
In the short term, I see opportunities to strengthen our relationships with Forum Dialogue Partners, not just in our work and engagement in the region, but through connections in international settings such as New York and Geneva. I encourage you to reach out to the Secretariat with ideas to strengthen our engagement on areas of common concern.
Excellencies, the recent meetings of Forum Ministers laid the groundwork for our Forum Leaders to meet virtually on 6 August with a focused agenda on the political dialogue mechanism and COVID-19. There is then the intention for Forum Leaders to meet in person next January with a full Forum agenda, when COVID-19 restrictions hopefully allow.
Forum Leaders value their annual session with Forum Dialogue Partners, and we will look to convene this in October, with a focus on climate change and resilience, ahead of the critical COP26 negotiations. We encourage Forum Dialogue Partners to participate at least at Ministerial level.
Thank you, I look forward to working with you all to progress critical challenges and opportunities for our Blue Pacific region.