REMARKS: SG Puna opening remarks, 2022 Pacific Debt Conference

Remarks

by Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General,

Mr Henry Puna

at the Opening of the 2022 Pacific Regional Debt Conference,

5 April 2022

Salutations:

· The Chair of the Pacific Islands Finance and Economic Ministers Meeting, the Honourable Minister of Finance for Tuvalu, Mr. Seve Paeniu;

· Honourable Finance Ministers;

· Forum Dialogue Partners and Observers

· The UN Deputy Secretary General.

· The UNESCAP Executive Secretary.

· CROP Heads.

· Regional Private Sector, Civil Society Organisations, and youth representatives.

· Excellencies.

1. Bula Vinaka, Kia Orana and greetings to you all.

2. I welcome you all to the 1st Pacific Regional Debt Conference (PRDC) mandated in July 2021 by the Pacific Island Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM). This inaugural Regional Debt Conference is intended to provide a platform for open and frank dialogue between Forum Island Countries, creditors and development partners to share information and discuss issues related to debt and financing solutions to address the unprecedented economic shocks and financial and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. This Conference is being jointly hosted by PIFS and UNESCAP, and I take this opportunity to thank UNESCAP for the support in co-hosting this important talanoa. It is my hope that the dialogue, and sessions on the Pacific’s debt situation will consider among others, the drivers of debt accumulation, innovative solutions to the debt situation, and what development partners can offer in terms of additional development financing solutions, as we chart our economic recovery policies and strategies forward.

4. May I also take this opportunity to thank our Conference co-convenors, Fiji, the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, and Tuvalu, the Chair of the FEMM, under whose leadership and vision, the Pacific’s global climate advocacy has reached new heights. This effort is no doubt a key catalyst for our discussions at this Conference on innovation in climate and debt financing, as well as loss and damage, and what this means, as the Pacific prepares for COP27. Our true strength as a region lies in our commitment to regional solidarity and in acting as a collective in addressing our own priorities in a complex and polarized world.

5. Our multi-lateral and bi-lateral development partners, who are also our lenders and grant

providers, are critical to the success of this Conference. Your presence is no doubt a strong signal of support for this Pacific-led approach to economic recovery, as members consolidate budgets and fiscal resources, and share experiences and insights, supplemented with your funding and support to see us through this crisis. On that note, I also take this opportunity to acknowledge your support.

6. That is why it is not helpful to talk about ‘debtors and creditors’ in a gathering like this because it conjures a “them versus us” mentality. We are all in this together, we are in the same canoe. I hope we can all work together and support each other because the ability of our small members to meet their debt obligations is also in the interest of our lenders.

7. The Conference is set against the backdrop of the recent Debt Sustainability Assessments of the International Monetary Fund, which placed a number of Pacific Countries at a high level of debt distress due to the impact of COVID-19, on revenue contraction, elevating fiscal deficits, and increasing pressure on borrowing capacity and constraints. Needless to say, the prevalence of natural disasters and climate-related events will continue to deepen government budget deficits and exacerbate the debt distress across the region.

8. Innovation for more agile, smarter, adaptative and transformative development is the key

to thriving in this new normal induced by COVID-19. A risk-centred approach to economic recovery from this crisis marks a critical shift in the way we need to think about these shocks in the Pacific. If you’ll allow me to use our traditional metaphors, it requires that we keep more dried coconuts and dried yams in our sheds to prepare for the change in seasons, to prepare for the rainy days, as they will happen more frequently, digging a deeper debt hole each time just as we’re recovering from the last shock.

9. To address this risk proactively, the Pacific Resilience Facility (PRF) is ear-marked to be

capitalised this year. I am pleased to inform this conference that we are working with former prime minister of New Zealand and former head of UNDP, Ms Helen Clark to support the capitalization efforts of the PRF. Debt swaps is another area that is being explored closely, whether it be debt for nature, debt for climate, or debt for health, and we look forward to the sharing of experiences from the Caribbean and Indian ocean regions as we strengthen our global alliances on how to respond to our common challenges.

10. Given the urgency of the situation and importance of building consensus and forging mutual

collaboration with our development partners, in the pursuit of urgent and meaningful solutions that are fit for purpose in these unprecedented times, your presence during this Conference demonstrates our unified leadership and unwavering commitment to addressing the theme of this Conference “Addressing Debt Sustainability in the Pacific in the Aftermath of COVID-19”.

11. With your support, we are confident that we will address the Pacific’s urgent

needs while providing a transformational vision for economic recovery for the region in the face of the current global uncertainty.

12. I wish you all a very fruitful and successful deliberations over the next 4 days and we look forward to the outcomes of this very important conference.

13. I thank you.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

5th April 2022

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