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PM Pohiva attends Forum Leaders’ meeting

Baron Waqa (left) and Samoa's Hon Fie'laepa at the opening ceremony in Nauru last night. Photo: PIF MEDIA

NAURU – September 4, 2018: 10.10am (Nuku’alofa Times): Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva is here in Nauru, with fellow leaders from the Pacific for the Forum Leaders’ meeting.

PM Pohiva is being accompanied by his political advisor Lopeti Senituli and a government team.

Other members of Tonga’s Delegation to the 49th Pacific Islands Forum include are the Minister for Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation & Labour, Hon Dr. Tu’i Uata; Acting Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet, Olita Tupou; Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mahe Tupouniua; CEO of the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation & Labour, Edgar Cocker; Political and Media Adviser to the Hon Prime Minister, Lopeti Senituli and a photojournalist with the Prime Minister’s Office, Suliana Pomana.

Pacific Leaders arrived in Nauru on Monday in time for the last evening’s opening ceremony.

Outgoing chairman and Samoa’s Prime Minister Hon Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi gave way to Nauru’s President Baron Divavesi Waqa, who takes over as the new chairman.

In welcoming the leaders to his country, Hob Waqa said it was an honour for Nauru to host the 49th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting “to continue our project of “Building a Strong Pacific: Our People, Our Islands, Our Will.”

“This year, Nauru celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence, which has inspired a great deal of reflection among my fellow citizens. The recent history of our region is quite remarkable. A political wave was set in motion by the people of Samoa in seeking a better life and it quickly swept across the entire Pacific. The founding fathers and mothers of our newly independent island nations firmly believed that we must be the masters of our own destiny – that prosperity must be crafted with our own hands. And so we asserted our right to self-determination and began our Pacific project,” he said.

“I imagine it was this same irrepressible spirit that led our ancestors leave the security of the continent and embark on their amazing voyages thousands of years ago.

“A large part of what drove our pursuit of independence was the recognition of our uniqueness. How could a distant administrator ever hope to understand the local needs and concerns, hopes and aspirations? However, our founders also recognized that their nascent States would face enormous challenges. A rapidly industrializing and financializing world would not always be the most welcome environment for nurturing our small, isolated, and vulnerable nations. They understood that broad-based prosperity and security would require regional cooperation with each other and with their international partners.”

Baron Waqa (left) and Samoa's Hon Fie'laepa at the opening ceremony in Nauru last night. Photo: PIF MEDIA

Baron Waqa (left) and Samoa’s Hon Fie’laepa at the opening ceremony in Nauru last night. Photo: PIF MEDIA

Baron Waqa said that our forefathers were optimistic.

“When reviewing the historical documents of the South Pacific Forum, as the PIF was then called, you can sense their overflowing optimism. Our founders had an ambitious vision of Pacific Regionalism that would build a strong Pacific on our terms. The overarching goal? Bring the Pacific closer together – closer through trade, through shipping and civil aviation, and through telecommunication. Central to this project would be our ocean, with tourism and the export of marine resources driving our economies forward and opening up new possibilities for our sustainable development,” he told the leaders.

“As the Pacific Islands Forum rapidly approaches its own 50th anniversary, we might wish to consider how our founders would judge our progress towards a “Strong Pacific.”

“I think it is fair to say that the results have not been terribly encouraging. A 2017 report by the PIF Secretariat on the State of Pacific Regionalism concluded that performance across the region with regard to the Millennium Development Goals was weak. Only two countries achieved all of the eight MDGs, and the majority of Pacific Island Countries achieved less than half. Indeed, growing political, economic, and environmental uncertainty is projected by the Secretariat to “exacerbate the vulnerabilities and dependencies the region currently experiences.”

Baron Waqa challenged the leaders to “to ask whether we have stayed true to the original vision for a strong and independent Pacific. Or if we have strayed, then why?”

Minister of Labour and Commerce Hon Tui 'Uata at the Forum meeting in Nauru. Photo: PIFS Media

Minister of Labour and Commerce Hon Tui ‘Uata at the Forum meeting in Nauru. Photo: PIFS Media

He said that our unique challenges as Pacific Island Countries are widely recognized.

Some are inherent in the geophysical nature of the islands we inhabit, such as small land mass, limited natural resources, geographic isolation, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

No less important are the challenges imposed on us by the global economic system, which was not designed with our countries in mind.

PM Pohiva and Lopeti Senituli at the Fourm Leaders' meeting in Nauru last night. Photo: PIFS MEDIA

PM Pohiva and Lopeti Senituli at the Fourm Leaders’ meeting in Nauru last night. Photo: PIFS MEDIA

Our small populations and production base do not yield the economies of scale sought by private investors. Volatility in commodity markets have outsized impacts on our fiscal planning. And the negative externalities of consumption-based economic growth have destroyed the health of our oceans and the safety of our climate. Meanwhile, corporate consolidation and a liberalized global financial system translate into fewer, and fewer opportunities for new enterprises to develop domestically.

“These are not new observations. We have been grappling with these challenges for decades. But in the face of climate change, developing effective strategies for dealing with them has become much more urgent. “Security” has become the watchword for the region, and it is essential that Pacific Island Countries define precisely what that word means to us,” he said.

“The work ahead may seem daunting, but no more so than when our parents and grandparents began this project to build a strong Pacific several decades ago. Like them, we can see the enormous potential of our people. We know our islands have provided us with all we needed to live with dignity for thousands of years, and can continue to do so for thousands more. At this moment in history, we must once again summon our will to lay out a clear vision for building a strong Pacific.”

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Madame Meg Taylor thanked Baron Waqa, his Government and the people of Nauru for the hospitality and for hosting the event.

She also acknowledged the outgoing Chair, the Honourable Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of the Independent State of Samoa.

“Under your tenure as Chair, we have made vast strides in advocating the Blue Pacific identity and strengthening regional solidarity in the face of a fast evolving geopolitical landscape. Over the past 12 months, the Secretariat has benefited tremendously from the guidance and counsel of Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Office,” she said, while paying tribute to Hon Tuila’epa.

She told the leaders that the Secretariat has worked very hard to deliver on the matters that the leaders requested of them at the 2017 Forum Leaders meeting, including: the development of a regional security declaration; the development of a Forum strategy on international engagement and advocacy; advancing the proposal for a Pacific Resilience Facility; and, undertaking comprehensive regional consultations in each of our Member States.

“These achievements demonstrate that with discipline and a focused and prioritised regionalism agenda, your Secretariat is ready and able to respond with the high quality and agile policy advice and support required to take forward your decisions to build a strong Pacific,” she said.

“Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the extensive consultations undertaken with Member States; with our regional agencies and with Development Partners on 2 specific policy issues, namely, the 2018 Pacific Sustainable Development Report and the regional consultations under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism have brought to the fore persistent development challenges that face Our People. In particular, social development issues such as food and water security, non-communicable diseases and growing socio-economic inequalities.

 “The theme for this year’s Forum emphasises that these persistent insecurities and gaps in development are underpinned by a range of issues that speak to our region’s fragility. Therefore, ensuring the resilience of Our Islands and Our People is crucial if we are to realise our collective development ambitions and aspirations.

“I recognise, at this juncture, the value that the Biketawa Declaration has afforded our region. The 2003 – 2009 Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru, in particular, is a strong example of regionalism realised under the Biketawa Declaration. The negotiation of a new regional security declaration, underpinned by an expanded concept of security, will strengthen the enabling environment we need for stronger and cohesive regional security cooperation and coordination to address such multifaceted insecurity, vulnerability and fragility.

“In addition to fragility, this year’s theme recognises that key challenges for overcoming our development deficits include our dependency on others for financial aid and the recognition that conventional development strategies borrowed from other parts of the world have not delivered effective results for the people of the Pacific.

“The theme’s call to exercise Our Will in order to build a Stronger Pacific signals the need to begin to break this dependency and take greater control of our destiny. The Pacific Resilience Facility is one important example of how we can assert Our Will and be the driving force and determinant for our own resilient future.

“The foundation for asserting Our Will remains the Blue Pacific narrative. Over the past 12 months the Blue Pacific narrative has provided the basis for our solidarity on a number of different occasions, perhaps most notably during the PALM 8 meeting between Forum Leaders and Japan’s Prime Minister.”

She said that it is vital that the Blue Pacific narrative continues to provide the impetus and basis for Pacific solidarity as we seek to advance our regional priorities such as at the BBNJ negotiations that are underway, COP24 at the end of the year, and within the WCPFC.

She added that the past 12 months has seen heightened geopolitical competition globally and around our region.

A key question for the Forum is how do we maintain and strengthen our own strategic autonomy within this context? One result of renewed global competition is an increased interest and engagement in our region by traditional and non-traditional actors.

“This creates both challenges and opportunities for us. In particular, it challenges us to maintain our solidarity in the face of those who seek to divide us,” she said.

“Therefore, increasing the value proposition of our Blue Pacific is absolutely vital to exercising Our Will in order to secure the wellbeing and potential of Our Islands and Our People.

“We are at a critical juncture in the history of our region and of the Forum. The decisions and actions we take now and in the next couple of years will have important implications for building a Strong Pacific for Our peoples and place – now and in perpetuity.

“This context demands a range of focused political conversations, including with our Forum Dialogue Partners, and the agenda for the Forum Leaders deliberations this week seeks to do just that.”

Leaders will have a Retreat tomorrow with the closing ceremony on Thursday.


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