Madam Chair, Honourable Ministers, at the outset permit me to extend warm greetings on behalf of Dame Meg Taylor, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum and her best wishes for this 14th Ministerial Committee Meeting. Permit me also to extend my personal thanks to our hosts, the Government and people of Australia for the exceptional arrangements. Chair, it would be remiss of me not to in like manner thank the Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Mr James Movick and his team for demonstrating their usual efficiency in expertly coordinating this meeting.
The convening of this meeting is timely as it comes on the heels of the Forum Fisheries Committee and the United Nations Oceans Conference, and critically, ahead of the Forum Officials Committee (FOC) and Leaders’ meeting, scheduled for August and September, respectively. Chair, in November this year, the world will meet in Germany for Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the hope of consolidating the global consensus on climate change and where doubtlessly, the question of the oceans – climate change nexus will be addressed. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is also carded to meet in Argentina in December and disciplines on fisheries subsidies is likely to dominate the agenda. Chair, I offer this observation only to share with you that this year is shaping up to be critical for the Oceans in general, and fisheries in particular. The Pacific region needs to engage fully on these issues.
Chair, in recognition of the centrality of the Oceans to the global agenda and moreover, to our common Pacific destiny, this year’s Forum has been appropriately themed “The Blue Pacific – our sea of islands – our security through sustainable development, management and conservation”. This is in recognition of the unique and indispensible role of the Ocean to our collective identity, security and livelihood. Indeed, as with the global dialogue on the Oceans, the Pacific is at a crossroads as it relates to fisheries; a crossroads that diverges onto two distinct paths – the one based on the primacy of collective actions and responsibility; and the other based on narrow national interests and individual responsibility. The one path leading to sustainable outcomes based on a collective will, and the other leading to individual actions at cross-purposes and ultimately resulting in diminished returns.
The Fisheries Taskforce work programme
As you are aware, Forum Leaders endorsed fisheries as one of the priorities under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism in 2015, and established a Taskforce to advance their decision on maximising the economic returns from the fisheries sector for our people. Chair, given that a comprehensive report will be submitted to this meeting on the work of the Taskforce, I am duty bound here only to express gratitude on behalf of the Secretary General for the collegial and dedicated approach taken by members of the Taskforce to their assignment.
The joint Taskforce comprises senior representatives from the Pacific Community (SPC), the FFA, the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and the Forum Secretariat. Over the past two years, the Taskforce has developed a Programme of actions to increase the Sustainable Economic Returns from the Fisheries sector for the Pacific islands. It complements the Fisheries Roadmap endorsed by the Leaders.
Four distinct components under the Programme are being executed by the relevant agencies. These relate to:
At their meeting in 2016, Forum Leaders endorsed the Taskforce Work Programme and Report, and acknowledged the importance of ensuring more onshore investment opportunities. The Taskforce held its 5th meeting in Canberra in June to evaluate progress made by members. The meeting registered progress in implementing elements of the programmatic agenda. In this regard, specific note should be made of the progress made with respect to implementing the Longline Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) for the management of tropical longline fisheries; improvements in monitoring control and surveillance, particularly as it relates to the monitoring of longline fisheries through electronic catch reporting and the use of on-board video recording devices. An acknowledgement of this progress is well reflected in the Annual 2016/2017 Message from the Director General of the FFA.
Chair, we are further encouraged that work is progressing apace on each of the programmatic elements of the taskforce work programme as endorsed by Leaders. As regards the specific responsibility of the Forum Secretariat, I am pleased to advise that our technical officials are progressing the work on Country profiles pursuant to the recommendation emerging from the 5thTaskforce meeting held on the margins of FFC102 in May 2017.
The taskforce also noted progress on legislation governing employment as well as employment standards in the fisheries sector. In-line with the taskforce mandate to progress ‘investment’ and domestic value chain participation, the meeting noted the development of new shore-based facilities; the development of investment profiles required to promote investment opportunities; ongoing analysis on the opportunities to establish fisheries hubs; and the potential expansion and domestication of ancillary services in the Pacific.
While the progress made by the taskforce as well as member countries is encouraging, it cannot be overemphasised, that success in realising the Leaders Decision can ONLY be meaningfully achieved through a collective resolve and concerted and coordinated policy actions.
As part of broader work programme on Fisheries, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat has engaged the services of a consultant to undertake a political mapping of the fisheries sector. This exercise was commissioned with a view to gaining a better understanding of the full scope of the overlapping and sometimes competing policy, management and jurisdictional issues within the regional fisheries sector. Chair the outcomes of this report have been circulated. The findings of this work are instructive as they reveal the importance of policy coherence in optimising outcomes from the sector.
In view of the potential for policy incoherence between the development and the management of the fisheries sector, some of the key finding of this exercise point to the need for a further rationalising of fisheries policy in order to minimising policy conflict between Forum members. To be clear, the region stands to be severely disadvantaged if fisheries policy, between our members is deployed inconsistently. This again ties into the ‘Blue Pacific’ approach that requires, indeed demands, better policy coordination in order to secure positive and sustainable outcomes. We will discuss related issues in Session VI.
Chair, allow me to briefly touch on the important issue of fisheries subsidies. As you are aware, for over a decade, WTO negotiators have been seeking to reduce the ability of member states to apply capacity enhancing subsidies to the fisheries sector. While initial proposals were motivated by a desire to secure the viability of over-exploited fish stocks, some proposals may potentially hold negative implications for Forum Island Countries if implemented. A ‘high ambition’ outcome may impact the ability of countries, including WTO Forum Island Countries to intervene in support of the expansion of domestic fleets, or provide much needed assistance and relief to the industry. During WTO negotiations, Forum Island Countries have consistently maintained that they do not contribute to overfishing given the limited size of domestic fleets and insufficient fiscal space to finance aggressive subsidy programmes. Indeed, while our members have played no role in creating perverse incentives to overfish, a ‘high ambition’ outcome on fisheries subsides can pose a risk to ongoing efforts aimed at strengthening and domesticating national fleets. To provide greater clarity on this issue, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat – and the WTO, convened a Regional Workshop on Fisheries Subsidies in Port Moresby on 24 – 25 April 2017.
While generally supportive of WTO rules that curtail the use of harmful subsidies, FICs have also stressed the need to preserve policy space that would allow for the development of the sectors, including through the application of subsidies where required. Such policy space must be maintained if the Leaders mandate on fisheries is to be fulfilled.
BBNJ and SDG14
Chair, allow me now to turn to the United Nations negotiations on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBMJ) and negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals 14 (SDG14), the Oceans goal.
Ahead of the Fourth Preparatory Committee of the UNGA for the development of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), on BBNJ, a Pacific SIDS retreat was convened on 10 June on the margins of the UN Oceans Conference. This retreat aimed to further coordinate regional positions ahead of the Fourth PrepComm carded for New York from 10 – 21 July, 2017. This meeting allowed for Pacific SIDS delegations and CROP agencies present to deliberate on the issues of critical concern to our region.
Some of the main issues of relevance to our members and on the docket for the upcoming Prepcomm include:
Another element of the multilateral agenda relates to SDG14, the Oceans Goal. As you are doubtlessly aware, less than a month ago, Heads of States and Governments met at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to progress the global agenda on Oceans under the co-chair of Sweden and Fiji. The Conference agreed an international ‘call for action’ on Oceans and members registered over 1300 voluntary commitments. The region demonstrated leadership in shaping the agenda and outcomes of the Oceans Conference and has come in for commendation for the level of coordination and high level of participation at the Conference. While it should be acknowledged that the Oceans Goal extends beyond fisheries, the targets related to IUU fishing and harmful subsidies are almost uniformly supported, in no small measure due to the advocacy of small states, including many Forum Island Countries. For the region, the challenge is now to progress the implementation of the Oceans Goal with particular emphasis on IUU fishing, including Blue Boats, and the negative effects of harmful subsidies on regional fish stocks.
The Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the SSCR process
The work on fisheries form part of a broader range of priorities that have been identified over the past two years under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR). The FPR is a ‘public policy process’ that seeks to engage a broad array of regional stakeholders to determine key regional policy priorities. In endorsing the FPR in 2014, Forum Leaders re-emphasized their commitment to regionalismand to regional approaches to achieve the SDGs, and aspirations, as articulated in the Forum Leaders’ vision and objectives for the region.
At the broader level, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism represents a more effective way of ‘doing regionalism’ and should be harnessed as one of many approaches to drive the regional agenda on Fisheries.
CROP Charter and standard procedure
The Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP), its respective agencies and governing councils both individually and collectively play a critical role in delivering on the objectives contained in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
As a member of CROP, FFA’ssupport on a range of Forum Leaders’ decisions, including the Fisheries work programme is well reflected and documented in the 2017 CROP Action Plan. CROP Heads of Agencies will report on progress against this Action Plan at the 48th Pacific Islands Forum in September this year. We therefore thank the FFA for continued collaboration and cooperation in this regard. May I also take this opportunity to also thank SPC and the Office of the PNA for their ongoing support.
A ‘one-CROP’ approach is at the very heart of effective Pacific regionalism. This can only be achieved through true collaboration and cooperation amongst CROP’s member agencies. It is in this vein, and in light of our forward momentum, that all CROP colleagues must strive to pursue collective outcomes and continue to supply high quality policy advice to Forum members.
As we move forward in achieving the Leaders decision on maximising social and economic benefits from the fisheries sector, the importance of having a strong foundation that is based on solidarity will become increasingly important.
We need to link our regional decision making networks. For example, the Forum Economic Ministers, at their meeting on 5-6 April 2017, considered the work being undertaken on fisheries, and in particular noted the progress by the Fisheries Taskforce to enhance economic returns from Fisheries, and directed Finance Officials to: (a) prioritise support to requests for technical input and assistance from the Taskforce; and (b) ensure that recommendations arising from the work of the Taskforce are considered in a timely and effective manner through national finance and budgetary processes. Indeed, and in similar vein, Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting will soon consider the ongoing work on Fisheries and will be apprised of the need to seek coordinated approaches and to secure regional solidarity when interfacing with third party countries and development partners. We must to the farthest extent possible harmonise our approach as we face the rest of the world. The Secretary General’s role as the Pacific Oceans Commissioner is also of critical importance.
Our recent past is replete with evidence that when we work together we can accomplish impressive outcomes. Our region was instrumental in the development of the SAMOA Pathway, played a leading role in generating a standalone outcome on SDG14, and is currently leading the charge on climate change. Chair, I say this only to make clear what is palpably obvious to us all, on Fisheries, we need to work together, in concert and in common cause. Over the past few years we have set a firm foundation of coordination and indeed solidarity. In the months and years ahead, it is our responsibility to build on that foundation and the progress already achieved to ensure constructive and positive results for our people.