Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna
with the OACPS Committee of Ambassadors, Brussels
To the Chair of the OACPS Committee of Ambassadors – The Ambassador of Angola, H.E. Mr. Mario de Azevedo Constantino,
Your Excellencies, and Representatives of OACPS Member countries,
Secretary General of the OACPS, H.E. Mr Georges Chikoti,
Senior Officials, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Warm Pacific greetings to you all.
I thank you for the opportunity to meet with you all this morning.
In our current global context, it has become a rare opportunity to be able to travel and facilitate meetings face – to – face, hence, it is my distinct privilege to be here with you all this morning.
I want to start my remarks by acknowledging with gratitude your work and achievements, particularly in your dedicated efforts to progress the Post Cotonou Negotiations and the resulting new Partnership Agreement; our “Samoa Agreement”.
I also want to thank you for the support and solidarity provided by the Committee of Ambassadors to ensure that our Samoa Agreement is indeed signed in Samoa. The signing of the new OACPS – EU Partnership Agreement is representative of our values of inclusivity and solidarity; and the significance that we place on the centrality of partnerships as promoted throughout the new Agreement.
Excellencies, Samoa and indeed the Blue Pacific, is ready to welcome our African and Caribbean colleagues to our shores to mark this new milestone in our history.
As you all may be aware, I took up the mantle of Secretary General to the Pacific Islands Forum in May this year.
I recognise that I have assumed this position in an unprecedented global and regional environment, however, it has not deterred me from my own mission – to serve the people of my region. I do so by effectively progressing key collective priorities – two of which I am particularly passionate about – being climate change and oceans.
Excellencies, I know that if we are to truly achieve our collective priorities – we will need to do so in partnership with key like-minded global partners and groupings.
In this light, the Organisation of ACP States has the potential to be valuable platform to build global consensus and discuss, advocate and progress key shared priorities.
Whilst I commend the rich partnership that we have shared to date, I do believe that there is opportunity under the new agreement to strengthen this further.
For the Pacific, we see this organisation, with its collective 79 strong voice, as a key vehicle to influence and drive global initiatives, in the shared interest of our respective regions.
We must use the strength and visibility of this platform to harness and build consensus on matters most critical to us – not just with the European Union, but beyond.
Excellencies, we now work and operate in a global landscape that has evolved so fast and so significantly in the last 24 months.
We are faced with multi-faceted challenges that have undone decades of progress and development and further, we are expected to take on these challenges with the existing allocation of resources.
For us in the Pacific, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our island economies severely. We face immediate health pressures, economic pressures and mounting social pressures at the national level.
Key economic sectors, such as Tourism, that have been nurtured and built as central sectors for our economies, have come to an absolute standstill. Indeed, this situation is not unique to the Pacific and, I am sure, this is also the case in your respective regions.
As a consequence, we have been forced to seek additional financing which has seen many of our island countries surpass their national debt ceilings. These economic challenges will not be resolved over night and will continue to be felt by generations after us, if we do not collectively advocate for debt relief.
Having said that, I must stress that these challenges emerge in the context of existing challenges, not the least of which is the ongoing climate crisis that we face on daily basis. Like you, this is our reality. On this note, I wish to commend the strong OACPS Leaders Climate Statement ahead COP26, which alligns to, and reinforces Pacific ACP Leaders’ Climate statement this year.
As I address you today, the Pacific region enters what we know as “the cyclone season”. Our meteorological outlook is to expect 4 – 6 Tropical cyclones between November 2021 and April 2022.
I have come from COP 26 where we have all fought so hard to reach an agreement that will ensure the survival of our generations – unfortunately, that ambition was not achieved this year and we are now placed in a precarious position with regard to our very existence.
COP 26 has been a COP of compromises – confirming, yet again, the criticality of strong and consistent advocacy by those of us on the front lines of the climate crisis.
Yes, as we come away from COP 26 with still a glimmer of hope of achieving the ‘1.5 degrees Celsius’ – so critical to our survival – BUT, it will take considerably more ambition than we have seen at COP 26.
Now, more than ever, our global partnerships to progress and advocate our positions are so fundamental to our welbeing.
As we turn towards the implementation of the SAMOA Agreement, Excellencies, I do believe that there are emerging opportunities for strengthened partnership and collaboration.
First and foremost, we must address the issue of ownership – in particular, the ownership of the decisions that emanate from this august organisation.
Excellencies, I understand that as members of the Committee of Ambassadors, you play a critical role in the monitoring and implementation of our ACP-EU Partnership Agreement.
To support strengthened ownership and coherence, I would offer that we continue to use ‘hybrid’ meeting arrangements, for both the Committee of Ambassadors and the Committee of Ministers, which would allow participation from Capitals across our three regions.
I am of the view that stronger ownership of our decisions as the OACPS, will the provide the platform for stronger and more effective consensus building and advocacy at the multilateral level.
Excellencies, in turning to our collective engagement at the multilateral level, COP 26 has just reaffirmed once again the importance of multilateral processes in global governance.
I offer that we explore the extent to which this ACP grouping can better and more effectively assert its collective will, not only in climate but in areas of common interest. [I note for example the important work that our respective organisations have undertaken, and continue to undertake with respect to West Papua.]
While we will always utilise existing UN groupings and blocs to pursue our immediate national and regional interest, we may wish to ask ourselves, whether the significant numbers that we possess as an ACP grouping could be a valuable basis for the exertion of our collective political will, in those areas where it matters most.
Excellencies, on this note, I would like to touch briefly on a regional initiative that our Leaders have endorsed and championed – the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise.
The ocean is such a fundamental part of our culture and our communities in the Pacific – it is not only a source of livelihood but the basis of our very identity.
As you would appreciate, the relationship between climate change-related sea-level rise and maritime zones, including economic and strategic considerations, is of key importance to our Pacific region and to all coastal States.
It is with this in mind that our Leaders have issued this strong political declaration that articulates our position to both preserve our maritime zones in the face of climate change-related sea-level rise and uphold the integrity of, and our long-standing commitment to, the 1982 UNCLOS as the global legal framework under which all activities and uses of ocean space is governed.
It is a considered, moderate and targeted solution through a good faith interpretation of the Convention.
The oceans, after all, is a shared resource that requires the application of the due regard principle to promote peace and harmony in its uses. That is the essence of the Declaration in this context, in promoting the notion that there shall be no derogation whatsoever in maritime entitlements under the Convention, in the face of climate change-related sea-level rise.
I welcome your consideration and advice on how best we can seek the support of this 79-member organisation to elevate our advocacy on this matter, particularly as look to influence international customary law.
Excellencies, allow me to now turn to the SAMOA Agreement.
Our Samoa Agreement has a 20-year life span that embraces our Pacific objectives, indeed it is a collective expression of all our development objectives with the European Union.
I know from experience, that our collective journey will encounter unforeseen challenges, but, overall, we should not detract from our set objectives.
The test of this agreement, however, will be its implementation. We need to be proactive in our efforts to ensure that the Samoa Agreement is effectively implemented with the right set of institutional and financial arrangements.
It is imperative that we work together to implement this agreement, but in order to do so:
we need to better understand OACPS plans to operationalise the Samoa Agreement,
we need to know the level of involvement the OACPS will have in implementing the three Regional Protocols, and
we need to better understand the level of connectivity the OACPS will have with regional organisations like our Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.
Having said that, Excellencies, I am encouraged with the level of engagement to date between our two organisations I will continue to work closely with Secretary-General Chikoti and his team.
Finally, Excellencies, may I acknowledge once again your valuable role and the ongoing support that you will provide to this organisation in the future.
I thank you all and wish you the very best for the upcoming holiday season.
Meitaki Ma’ata and thank you all very much, Excellencies.–ENDS
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