Rarotonga, Cook Islands– The 43rd Pacific Islands Forum has officially opened in the Cook Islands capital Rarotonga with Forum Leaders being carried to the entrance of the National Auditorium, where the ceremony was held, on a Pa’ata ( a traditional platform) accompanied by their “adopted schools”.
There were traditional challenges along the way to the Auditorium with the beating of drums and chants. There were more tamure dancing with the new Chair of the Forum and Cook Islands Prime Minister, Hon. Henry Puna singing a song to welcome his Pacific colleagues to his country. Forum Leaders and their delegations together with the local community then joined together in a large feast.
Included are parts of the address by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade at the opening ceremony.
“The Forum at 40 – pressing forward
As we press forward beyond the 40 years of the Pacific Islands Forum, we do so in the face of many challenges, in the region and beyond. Economic growth among Forum countries continues to be lower than potential growth performance. Climate change remains the single greatest threat, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is uneven. There is a host of others.
And so, Honourable Leaders, this meeting is about finding answers, and the region looks to you for guidance and stewardship.
A most worthy theme has been set for the year: “Large Ocean Island States – the Pacific Challenge”. Islands inhabit the ocean and the ocean exerts strong influence on islands. Indeed, the ocean is the strongest forcing on the global climate system. The ocean-island inter-play is the essence of an ancient and intimate relationship, one that lies deep in the character and culture of every Pacific community. But these are times of challenging and far-reaching change. The demands of humanity are taking their toll, putting stress, in particular, on the oceans and its resources. Our countries are at the forefront in the struggle against climate change, and recurring natural disasters. The Pacific Challenge is timely and right for the Forum in united kinship of our large ocean island states to determine a future based on peace and security, and prosperity for all.
The Pacific Oceanscape is a natural focus in this endeavour. Endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2010, the sweeping vision of the Pacific Oceanscape is grounded in pragmatism: a pledge to ourselves to safeguard our home and our security, and to advance informed and integrated ocean management and adaptation to environmental and climate change.
Two months ago at Rio de Janeiro, World Leaders and high level representatives, including from almost every Forum member country, set out their Common Vision for the “Future We Want”. There was acknowledgement and reaffirmation of the need to achieve economic stability and sustained economic growth, promotion of social equity and protection of the environment, while enhancing gender equality and women’s empowerment and equal opportunity for all, especially for young people.
The outcomes of Rio+20 also reaffirmed the “special case” for small island developing States for sustainable development; acknowledged climate change as one of the greatest global challenge of our time; and gave very significant emphasis to the importance of the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and their resources. We must seize and build on these outcomes. The Pacific Plan
The response to the Pacific Challenge theme, and to the Rio outcomes would need to be centred on the Pacific Plan, the master strategy for regional cooperation and integration. The Pacific Plan provides a high-level framework to articulate the priorities for the region and is now well recognised by development partners and the wider international community.
The Pacific Plan is due for review in 2013, on terms for the consideration and approval by Leaders.
The Forum Compact and Peer Reviews
The Forum Compact launched by Leaders at your meeting in Cairns is now recognised as an effective mechanism in the implementation of the Pacific Plan. The Peer Review process has proven of particular value and utility in efforts for strengthening the systems and functioning of national development plans. The sharing of insights and experience amongst Forum member countries goes to the very heart of regional cooperation and integration.
Adopted by Forum Leaders at their meeting in 2011, the Waiheke Declaration on Sustainable Economic Development recommitted Leaders to pursue a goal of sustained economic growth and development. I would note that the necessary policy and implementation actions associated with the Declaration are underway closely monitored and led by the Forum Economic Ministers.
Regional and international trade issues are high on the region’s agenda, as they should. I am particularly pleased to report the signing of the PICTA trade in services Protocol earlier today. This is a milestone step and a crucial one for Forum countries and for the regional economy as a whole.
Transnational Crime and Counter Terrorism
Transnational crime continues to be a human and economic security threat, and remains a matter of concern and priority for law enforcement agencies of the region. Recent statistics indicate that the region is being actively targeted as a transit route for the trafficking of arms, people and illicit drugs. I note and commend the efficient and coordinated efforts by national and regional law enforcement agencies to combat these criminal activities and threat.
Activities under the Biketawa Declaration
Under the Biketawa Declaration, I am pleased to report that RAMSI continues to be a mission of the greatest assistance and support to the Solomon Islands, and I am sure Honourable Leaders would wish to congratulate the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI on significant progress made in the development of relations, and particularly in the implementation of the SIG-RAMSI Partnership Framework.
I report also that the Forum Ministerial Contact (MCG) Group on Fiji was able to conduct a successful visit to Fiji on 1 May 2012. This was the Group’s first visit since the implementation of targeted measures in May 2009. This matter is also for Leaders’ consideration at this meeting. Women
Honourable Leaders, your meeting this year is an occasion to acknowledge the strength, insight, determination and wisdom of Pacific women – past and present. We need to continue, with greater clarity, to support and encourage concerted efforts underway to effectively address the entrenched disadvantages that many women face in participation in education, economic opportunities and leadership, and social advancement. There is some pleasing response to calls for increased women’s political participation and decision-making, and to advancing women’s economic status. But, much more needs to be done to instill ‘zero tolerance’ for violence against women and girls.
I should like to acknowledge the presence of UN Under-Secretary General Madame Bachelet, Head of UN Women and here to represent the UN Secretary General. I am sure she would be delighted to offer to Leaders her insights and advice.
The region engages actively and constructively with all development partners in the implementation of the work of the Forum. These partnerships are vital for the region and are deeply valued, and I wish to acknowledge the presence here today of all our development partners and their representatives.
In particular, I acknowledge the cooperation and contribution of many of the partner technical agencies and fellow executives of the Pacific regional organisations who are here today.”
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