Welcome remarks delivered by Dr Filimon Manoni, Acting Secretary General, Pacific Island Forum
16 February 2023
On the behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General and staff, it is my great privilege to welcome you all to the premises of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat for the launching of the first ever Digital Economy Report: Pacific Edition 2022. I especially extend our warmest greetings to our chief guest Mr Shaheen Ali, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of External Trade, Cooperatives and SMEs and to our guests from the EU and Australia, His Excellency Mr. Sujiro Seam, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific; and His Excellency Mr. John Williams, Chargé d’Affaires, Australian High Commissioner to Fiji.
I regret that the Secretary General of UNCTAD, Ms. Rebeca Grynspan, is unable to join us today due to the late hour in Geneva, but I acknowledge her support for this event through her recorded video remarks.
I also welcome all those joining us through livestream from across our Blue Pacific region and the rest of the world. Thank you all for coming this morning.
Digital Economy Report and the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap
With the endorsement of the 2050 Strategy and the ongoing implementation of the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy, the Secretariat is particularly proud to host the launching of the first ever Digital Economy Report focusing on a Region of the world, the Digital Economy Report: Pacific Edition 2022 in partnership with UNCTAD and the UNCDF. This is a key report for our Members and for the Secretariat as it contributes both directly and indirectly to the implementation of the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap endorsed by Forum Trade Ministers in 2021.
The Strategy aims to narrow trade distances, integrate rural and urban markets and generate opportunities for micro, small and medium sized enterprises therefore triggering new job creation, including mitigating the ‘tyranny of distance from main markets’ and the digital divide gap. We know that e-commerce and digital trade can transform livelihoods across the Pacific.
Data, access and use of digital technologies remain challenging issues facing the Pacific region. This is why a report like this is so valuable. It adds to the growing body of evidence that e-commerce and digital trade can be a driver of inclusive growth in the Pacific region. E-commerce is one of the four priorities of the Pacific Aid-for-Trade Strategy2020-2025, noting its potential to narrow distances and trade costs, and to promote diversification of Pacific economies. What is more, this report is also forward looking. As its focus is on the digital economy as a whole, it touches on People-centred Development, Economic Development and technology and connectivity, which are three of the thematic areas of our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
As previously mentioned, the report addresses one of the main limitations in the region, which regards data on what is happening on the ground. Its findings will inform partners and members on how to perform effective policymaking, development programming and regional cooperation initiatives in e-commerce and digital transformation. The Secretariat’s Pacific E-commerce Initiative shares similar concerns on e-commerce data availability. Together with the South Pacific Community and UNCTAD, the Initiative is working on improving the access to e-commerce related indicators for countries in the region as well as capturing data on digital transactions. The data are freely available on the Pacific E-commerce Portal, which is a digital platform serving as a regional repository on e-commerce matters.
The report also highlights that policies and regulations in the Pacific will need to be adapted to the digital age: the approaches taken will affect not only trade, innovation and economic progress, but also a range of issues related to human rights, health, education and national security. Evidence-based policymaking will be key to building a digital economy that works for all people and we must continue to prioritize under-served and marginalized groups such as youth, women and those living in rural areas.
Partnership and Coordination
I must commend the Pacific Digital Economy Programme for developing such a rigorous body of research that uncovers new data and analysis on the digital economy in the region. I congratulate UNCTAD and the UNCDF for their dedication and leadership in developing this report, and acknowledge the contributions provided by PIFS staff.
I also acknowledge that this has been a collaborative effort, a great example of regional cooperation among many stakeholders. The Secretariat’s active contribution to this report and launching event, not only fulfils the implementation of the Regional E-commerce Strategy but also fulfils our obligations in the context of coordinating and monitoring the Pacific e-commerce and digital trade agenda as directed by our members.
As we look forward to unfolding the findings of the Digital Economy Report: Pacific Edition 2022, we echo the Report in calling on our partners to continue the great partnership our Members and region envisaged under the Pacific E-commerce Initiative to deliver on the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. I invite all of you to make good use of the knowledge base present in this Report and look forward to welcoming more initiatives as this one.
I would like to close my remarks by thanking the Government of Australia and the European Union for your support to Forum Countries through key programmes such as the SPIRIT and PDEP, and development partners in the strengthening of digital trade in the region. I look forward to your continue engagement and support, which, as the Report highlights, has the power to change lives.
Thank you all.