Delivered by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna
at the Pacific ACP Ministers Meeting
05 October 2023, Suva, Fiji.
Hon. Tingika Elikana, Chair of the Pacific-ACP Trade Ministers Meeting,
Hon. Manoa Kamikamica, Fiji Deputy Prime Minister,
Heads of Delegations and Representatives of PACP Member Countries,
Representatives of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific,
Mr. Junior Lodge, Assistant Secretary General OACPS,
Mrs. Barbara Plinket, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific,
Representatives of Technical Agencies and Development Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Kia Orana, Bula Vinaka, and Good Morning.
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all today. Let me begin by thanking our members who have travelled far and wide from across the region and beyond to grace this event in person. I also wish to recognise the presence of our members and distinguished guests joining us virtually from the Pacific and across the globe.
More than three years have passed since the Pacific-ACP Ministers held the last face-to-face meeting in Suva in February 2020. Little did we know then that the global pandemic, COVID-19, which wreaked havoc on the global economy and transformed the lives of billions, was already on our doorsteps.
While our geographic isolation from the rest of the world may have mitigated its devastating impacts on our small and vulnerable economies for a while, they ultimately buckled under pressure from global supply chain disruptions brought on by unpredictable lockdowns, prolonged quarantine requirements, and costly travel restrictions. Our tourism-reliant economies suffered major and crippling losses, businesses shuttered or closed, and many of our workers and their families were left wondering where and how to get their next meal due to widespread unemployment.
Yet, here we are, more than three years later, and one virtual forum in 2021, still standing. Still optimistic and more committed than ever to build back better from the lessons learned on the efficiency and effectiveness of our national and collective disaster preparedness, response, and recovery strategies during and after the global pandemic.
Let’s not forget that trade, in all its nuances, whether cross-border or domestic, in both formal and informal sectors, kept our economies afloat. Our people were fed. Our sick people were cared for through critical medical supplies, equipment, and personnel. Our unemployed were given lifelines of alternative sources of income to sustain their livelihoods.
The theme of this year’s meeting underscores the importance of the engine room of trade, our private sector, and the pivotal role they play in leveraging trade and investment to grease the wheels in the implementation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
The Pacific ACP Ministers and high-level representatives from the 27 EU member states will meet in Samoa, less than six weeks from today, on 14/15 November, to sign the Samoa Agreement – the successor Agreement to the Cotonou Agreement. This will be a historic occasion for the Pacific sub-region in the Organisation of ACP States—a proud moment for our people. We congratulate the Government of Samoa for holding the flag for the region on this occasion.
I recognise the presence of the newly appointed Assistant Secretary General of the OACPS in Charge Structural Economic Transformation and Trade, Mr. Junior Lodge will address your august body who is joining us virtual from Brussels; and the new Head of Mission of the EU Delegation Office for the Pacific, H.E Ambassador Ms. Barbara Plinkert, who will deliver her remarks on the EU’s vision on its future engagement with the Pacific ACP members on the ongoing PRISE programme and its successor framework.
The SPIRIT project is one of the four projects under the EU-funded PRISE programme, worth EUR 37 million, that is managed by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Since the recruitment of the project team in 2022, three Trade Advisers have been deployed to the three subregions based in the Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu, and Tonga. In addition to the four parties of Fiji, PNG, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands, and the two observers of Tonga and Timor Leste, three more members, Niue, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, have formally expressed their interest to accede to the IEPA and submitted market access offers. The PACP membership will likely increase from four to seven by the third quarter of 2024, all factors remaining constant.
The Member states identified as many as 37 activities for technical support. Three have been completed, and a few more will be concluded over the next month. Seventeen are active, fifteen are in the procurement/contract stage, and only two have yet to be mobilised. As your Secretary General, I’m proud of these achievements and the work delivered to the members, barely into its mid-term.
But much work remains to be done. We cannot rest on our laurels and business as usual for the PACP members. Several questions beg to be asked:
The meeting papers are now before you for your deliberation and endorsement. Your senior trade officials have done a sterling job in unpacking the content and critically assessing the recommendations where your decisions are required to move them to the next steps after this meeting. These are as follows:
Agenda Item 3: Regional Trade and Investment Landscape
Agenda Item 4: Comprehensive Review of Existing Regional Trade Agreements
Agenda Item 5: The Pacific Regional Integration Support Programme (Prise)
Agenda Item 6: Multilateral Trade Issues: Update on the 13th WTO Ministerial (MC13) and WIPO IGC Negotiations on the Multilateral Treaties for Traditional Knowledge Protection
Agenda Item 7: Trading Opportunities with Other Partners (ASEAN, CARICOM and COMESA)
Our diverse economic and trade-related interests are as unique and distinct as our national identities. I’m confident, however, that despite these differences, we will seek out our common and shared interests to catapult our regional trade agenda to the next level after this meeting.
Honourable Ministers.With these few remarks I wish you well in your deliberations.
I thank you.