REMARKS: PIF SG Henry Puna on Diplomacy, Trade, Journey to Pacific 2050 at PTI Board Meeting

Delivered by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna

at the fifth Pacific Trade Invest Board Members Independent Advisory Board Meeting

12 October 2023, Auckland New Zealand.


E nga iwi, e nga mana, e nga reo

Tena Koutou, Tena Koutou, Tena koutou katoa,

  • Members of the diplomatic corps,
  • Excellencies,
  • PTI Independent Advisory Board,
  • Trade Commissioners,
  • Partners and Friends of the Pacific –

Kia Orana,

I am very pleased to join this distinguished gathering this evening, and indeed, to share some reflections with you all, particularly on the back of a series of fruitful Forum Meetings, including with Ministers of trade, economics and foreign affairs.

Indeed, we live in a world that is evolving rapidly on a daily basis – politically, economically and socially.

We increasingly find ourselves having to contend with the complexities of new and emerging challenges that come with the advancement of the digital economy and technology, geopolitical manoeuvrings, and economic fluctuations – just to name a few.

In amidst this, we continue to navigate the multiple challenges posed by the climate emergency in our region – the single greatest existential threat of our age.

There is strengthened recognition and appreciation that the key to our success in overcoming these complexities, lie not in our individual strengths but that of the collective.

And there is no better blueprint for our collective priorities and vision than the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

The 2050 Strategy represents our collective vision for the future that we want to create for our children and grandchildren.

It is a strategy that will require the support, investment and partnership of all stakeholders – governments, private sector, development partners and non-governmental organisations.

Central to this Strategy is our very prosperity as a Pacific people.

A recurring narrative that has emerged from the recent suite regional discussions is the need to invest in and deepen Pacific regionalism.

Pacific regionalism was borne out of the intention of our founding fathers, to increasingly strengthen integration with a view to achieving economies of scale in our unique Pacific region.

Looking back on our history, we have experimented with multiple forms of integration including:

on connectivity through the Forum Shipping Line and Air Pacific; and

on trade, through preferential and regional trade agreements such as SPARTECA (pronounced: Spa-tea-car) and the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement.

However, performance across these initiatives were, at best, mixed.

Our Economic Ministers questioned, and rightfully so, if we were doing enough, as a region, to nurture and strengthen regionalism towards integration.

It posed an important point of reflection members around the table because at the very core of regional integration, is the principle of incrementally ceding one’s sovereignty on related issues.

If there is one thing that I have taken from the various ministerial conversations in the last month, it is a conviction that our economic prosperity lies in our ongoing unity and solidarity.

There was recognition around the table that if we were to truly seize our economic potential, we must do so together as one region.

Indeed, a key sentiment that was raised was that a fully integrated Pacific region should comprise all members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including Australia and New Zealand.

Together, we are stewards of the largest ocean on this planet, and with it, some of the healthiest oceanic resources available.

As a region, we represent some of the most diverse and rich cultures in the world and are custodians to 15% of the world’s languages.

We have jurisdiction over some of the most extensive biodiversity in the world and indeed, as pointed out recently, the bio-origins of medicine and health products of the future can be found in the resources that lie here in the blue pacific continent.

And of course, we are custodians of the largest healthy fish stocks in the world, supplying 40% of the global tuna supply – and yet, we are not the price setters in this industry or market and are still price takers and suppliers of the primary resource.

To truly capitalise on economies of scale, we need to work together as a region to step up our engagement from mere suppliers of the primary resource to value-adding products on a regional scale and exporting to markets.

We need to invest in regional supply chains that consider the comparative advantages of our respective states.

We need to invest in building resilient value chains in the region that are supported by stable and affordable connectivity.

Through these small but firm efforts will we truly begin to transform the nature of our engagement as a region from a collective of island states to an increasingly cohesive bloc of nations, who together, are custodians of land and oceanic resources that have a large stake in the future of humanity.

But what must we do to realise this economic and political potential?

The answers are all there in the 2050 Strategy – and articulated across the 7 thematic areas that the strategy has identified.

Put simply:

We need strong Political leadership and strengthened Pacific regionalism towards integration;

We need to operate from a secure and peaceful stand-point, not divided by conflict in and amongst ourselves;

We need to ensure that we collectively address the climate-related threats we face on a daily basis;

We need to capitalise on our oceanic and environmental resources’;

We need to sustainably develop said resources;

We need to reap the advantages of technology and connectivity;

Finally, we must ensure that our sustainable efforts address and respond to the needs of our people.

Excellencies, friends, we are in a world where statecraft and diplomacy—and a mindset that can embrace and lead change, have never been more critical.

We know from our own history that the solutions that work best are those grounded in our lived realities.

You diplomats and statecraft masterminds in the room know the power of being in a suitable space at the right time, with the right people, and – most of all—the right words.

This aspect of diplomacy, perfected by Pacific leaders and arguably one of the critical cornerstones of the Pacific Way, has been a trump card for keeping faith through challenging times for a Pacific family of nations who can disagree yet remain together and united on what matters most.

It is what worked for a group of seven founding leaders of what would become the Pacific Islands Forum when they gathered in Wellington in 1971.

And it is what rallied in recent years, when our Pacific family weathered our own political challenges.

But more so than this, I would like to think that it was the ultimate belief in the strength of the collective and the power and potential of a united region, that reweaved our solidarity as a region.

I cannot underscore enough my belief that together as a bloc of nations, we have the potential to be an influential player on the global stage – and we see this already in the climate change advocacy arena.

The onus is on us: as political leaders, policy makers, private sector operators, civil citizens – across all sectors of our economy – to work together to realise our true economic potential.


As I prepare for my final Forum Leaders meeting as the Secretary-General, I am encouraged by the theme that the Cook Islands has set for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum and Related Meetings: Our voices, our choices, our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper.

 Through the partnerships this forum session wants to highlight, our host is especially keen to ensure common interests bring you closer to our Pacific development aspirations.

We all share, and all have a part in the Pacific future.

And very clearly, the opportunities can only grow when we promote, partner with, and prosper what works for us and for our Blue Pacific future.

The mana of the Pacific Way lies in resolving conflict through common ground, focusing on connection, trust, and relationships.

The mana of the Pacific Way is in leaving no one behind, embracing an inclusive approach, allowing conversations that ensure people can speak and, more importantly, can be heard.

The mana of the Pacific Way is in the ocean and in us. It’s about setting sail from known shores to a beckoning new horizon.

It’s about being strategic about being heard. So that we all act and impact — for all peoples, of all nations.

Nga mihi nui, –I thank you.



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