11 August, 2011
Address to Pacific Islands Forum 40th Anniversary
Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon.
Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade.
Ladies and gentlemen.
Kia ora and Pacific greetings to you all.
It’s a great pleasure to be here today to deliver this address in the 40th anniversary year of the Pacific Islands Forum.
New Zealand is committed to strengthening and deepening relations with our closest neighbours in the Pacific.
This Government has made good progress on Pacific relations in the past few years since we came into office.
We promised to increase the tempo and level of discussions with our neighbours in the Pacific, and we have delivered on that promise.
We have had a particular focus on increasing consultation and engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum countries.
That’s why, in my first year as Prime Minister, I made it a priority to lead an official delegation to the Pacific Islands. It was a valuable chance to reinforce our close links with our Pacific neighbours, and show our commitment to the whole region.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully is also very focused on engaging with the Pacific. He has been on 23 trips to the Pacific in the past few years, visiting 12 countries.
New Zealand is proud to be a nation in the Pacific, and we look forward to stronger ties with our closest neighbours in the years ahead.
Hosting this year’s Pacific Islands Forum is another way for us to reinforce our commitment.
The Forum has a long and successful history.
Forty years ago, the leaders of seven South Pacific countries came together in Wellington.
No one knew quite what to expect, because it was the first time our region had brought together so many leaders for a more or less open-ended discussion.
But the first South Pacific Forum was a success.
The seven leaders talked about many issues affecting our region – ranging from nuclear testing to trade, from shipping to education.
The Forum’s communiqué noted the meeting had achieved helpful and practical exchanges of information.
The main point was, probably, a sentence towards the end that read:
“Quite apart from being of immediate value to individual participants, the talks significantly advanced the spirit of regional cooperation and mutual confidence.”
I imagine this sense of common purpose left the leaders with a feeling they’d been part of something worthwhile.
This same sense of common purpose brought them back together twice the following year, in Canberra and Suva.
And, after that, regional leaders’ meetings were a regular part of the calendar.
Over time, the South Pacific Forum evolved and changed.
Its work programme, administered by the Secretariat in Suva, became more complex and wide-ranging.
It expanded to include more countries and peoples, which led to the Forum gaining a new name – the Pacific Islands Forum – in 2000.
Today, the Pacific Islands Forum is a core institution of our region.
It is the main means by which our leaders and governments work through regional problems, issues and opportunities.
It is a key vehicle for advancing regional cooperation in politics and economics.
And it helps us represent the concerns of our region to the wider world.
In this respect, the Forum’s 14 dialogue partners, who meet leaders immediately after each Forum summit, provide an essential link to major economies and to wider political, trade and aid processes.
For example, this year’s dialogue will address the important issue of donor coordination, which is part of the Cairns Compact.
It’s about strengthening Pacific countries’ leadership of their own development agenda.
But it’s also about making sure dialogue members coordinate support for Pacific countries, to get better results where it’s needed most.
Given the central role the Pacific Islands Forum plays in the lives of 16 countries, New Zealand is honoured to be hosting the 42nd leaders’ meeting in the Forum’s 40th anniversary year.
It is a great pleasure to host this gathering against the backdrop of one of the biggest events ever to come to this part of the world: the Rugby World Cup.
About 85,000 people from throughout the world are coming here to watch the rugby and be part of the REAL New Zealand Festival.
We want them to take home not only memories of some great rugby games, but also a sense that they have been to the Pacific.
Given that Auckland is the world’s largest Polynesian city, I’m confident that any visitor who spends time here will have no doubt they are in the Pacific.
We will also be reinforcing the concept of “Pacific-ness” through a three-day Pacific Islands Showcase at the Cloud exhibition space on Auckland’s waterfront.
This showcase will present not only the cultures of the Pacific, but also the considerable trading and investment opportunities these countries offer.
Because this is the Forum’s 40th anniversary, and because of the attention that will come upon the meeting through the World Cup, we wanted to make sure we had a theme that would do credit to the occasion.
That’s why the theme we are proposing is: “converting potential into prosperity”.
We know the Forum has had some impressive successes in past years.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
First, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, known as RAMSI.
For eight years now, RAMSI has provided a security guarantee that has allowed the Solomon Islands Government to rebuild its country, following the tensions of the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
Civilian members of the mission are helping to rebuild the institutions of government in the Solomon Islands, from finance and taxation through to the courts.
RAMSI has included participants from every Forum member country, and this is something of which the Forum can be proud.
It is clear from those who have served in the Solomon Islands that the pan-Pacific flavour of the mission has been vital to its success.
Second, the Forum successfully coordinated Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru. This helped Nauru recover from its debt crisis between 2004 and 2009.
Leaders have agreed on a framework for joint responses to regional crises such as those in Nauru and the Solomons.
In the process, leaders also set down their joint expectations of standards of governance and adherence to democratic principles.
The Forum has also worked hard to overcome transport difficulties in the Pacific. For example, the Pacific Forum Line has helped to build trade bridges between isolated island countries.
It’s important that we acknowledge these and other successes of the Pacific Islands Forum.
But it is also important to focus on the future.
The Forum has played a major role in developing a sense of Pacific regionalism.
The challenge now is to build on that idea of common purpose – the idea that brought Pacific leaders together back in 1971 – and harness it to build a brighter future for this whole region.
Hence our proposed theme: “converting potential into prosperity”.
By potential, I mean the ability to build on the region’s many resources and assets.
Too often the potential of the Pacific is overlooked in the rush to identify problems. We need to focus a little more on what our part of the world has, rather than on what it does not.
Our region is home to major sources of clean energy, such as sun and wind.
Energy will be a key feature of this Forum, and I hope to see concrete steps taken by the region and its donor partners to realise potential in renewable energy. It’s a way of both transforming economies and addressing climate change.
Our region also has mineral and oil wealth, as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and other countries can attest.
The Pacific Ocean holds a vast stock of fish and other marine resources, which most of the Island economies have access to.
Some Pacific nations have the ability to grow fruit, vegetable and oil crops that are sought after throughout the world.
The two largest economies, Australia and New Zealand, have large primary industries that can offer seasonal employment to people from the smaller island countries.
In an increasingly crowded and built-upon world, the Pacific has a natural environment that is second to none.
And, above all, our region is home to the Pacific people, who, along with their rich and diverse cultures, are full of potential.
Fulfilling this long list of potential presents some major challenges.
There are great difficulties in using the physical resources of the Pacific in ways that ensure sustainability, protect the land and the sea, and return revenues to local people.
Climate change is a major threat to many Pacific island countries, particularly those made up of low-lying atolls.
Those seeking to develop export industries must overcome the tyranny of distance, lack of access to capital, and quarantine restrictions in other countries.
Tourism development is thwarted by lack of international and local transport, and by lack of investment in local infrastructure.
Human potential is challenged by poverty, by lack of educational and employment opportunities, by poor access to energy and telecommunications, and by food security issues.
The need to confront these sorts of issues has been acknowledged by Pacific leaders.
In 2004, they commissioned a group of eminent Pacific people to talk to the governments and citizens of Forum countries.
The Eminent Persons’ Group asked people about their hopes and dreams for their nations and the wider Pacific – and about the difficulties that stood in their way.
The outcome was a document called “Voices of the Region”.
In 2005 the recommendations of that paper were accepted by Forum leaders as “The Pacific Plan”.
The Plan has four key pillars: economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security.
The four pillars are interrelated and form the basis for a successful Pacific region.
The Plan acknowledges the need to pursue progress under these pillars regionally as well as nationally, for the simple reason that the problems being tackled and the solutions proposed cross national boundaries.
Looking back, we need to be honest about what we have achieved under the Plan, and aspire to do more.
Regional problems need regional solutions the combined effort of countries working together for their individual and joint benefit.
For example, the Pacific Ocean is the last great tuna fishery on the planet. Working together, we need to ensure it does not suffer the fate of others around the world.
We have seen some promising steps. Tuna fisheries in the region are now being better protected and managed through the collaborative work of the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.
This work has contributed to the Pacific region’s share of the global tuna catch increasing 50 per cent in the past five years.
However, some of the region’s poorest countries have the largest Exclusive Economic Zones, and still do not see the returns they should from this resource.
Pacific-wide approaches are also being developed on the vital issues of climate change and food security.
A regional acknowledgement of the threat presented by climate change, and the commitment of Pacific countries to combating it, is enshrined in the Forum’s 2008 Niue Declaration.
The many regional organisations that exist throughout the Pacific – organisations with responsibility for sectors such as fishing, tourism and the environment – are being reformed and restructured so they can do their jobs more effectively.
Negotiations are continuing steadily towards a PACER Plus trade and economic agreement between Pacific island countries, Australia and New Zealand.
The Pacific Plan provides the architecture under which these initiatives advance.
It isn’t prescriptive. The Plan acknowledges that the regional and global environment is not static. It accepts that some aspects of regional coordination and integration will advance quickly, some more slowly.
The important thing is to keep chipping away under the four pillars, keeping sight of the overall objective of a peaceful, prosperous and secure Pacific.
Let me now bring this big regional picture back to this year’s Forum in Auckland.
Our theme, “converting potential into prosperity” is directly linked to the first two pillars of the Pacific Plan: economic growth and sustainable development.
We see these two pillars pretty much sitting together. Sustainable economic development is, in our view, the key to the future of the Pacific.
It’s about finding ways to carefully use the resources and assets of the Pacific so that they benefit the people of the countries that hold them, now and in the future.
It’s about investing in people so they can maximise their potential.
It’s about creating educational and employment opportunities that will ensure young people can have rewarding lives in their own countries, rather than having to seek opportunities overseas.
Sustainable economic development will help provide the resources Pacific island governments need to fund the health, education, law enforcement and other services their people need.
It will also reduce the aid dependency of many Pacific island countries and build their long-term resilience.
At this year’s Forum meeting, we, as hosts, will be working hard to advance some practical initiatives that will stimulate the sort of development I am talking about.
We want to provide a platform for the region to present itself to the world as a place where opportunities exist.
When I talk about opportunities, I am referring to investment and development opportunities.
We hope to focus in particular on six core sectors where we think early gains can and should be made: energy, fisheries, tourism, education, agriculture and infrastructure.
Of course I can’t predict at this stage where our discussions next month might take us.
However, I can say that there are several areas where New Zealand would like to see rapid progress, and we hope to be able to announce some initiatives at the Forum.
But building sustainable economic development is not a task for governments alone.
It needs the input of the wider community, not least the entrepreneurs and traders, large and small, who ultimately drive economic enterprise.
That’s why we will host a series of events alongside the political meetings. These will help build understanding of the opportunities that exist in the Pacific.
The centrepiece will be the Pacific showcase I mentioned earlier.
The Cloud exhibition space on the Auckland waterfront will be well-placed to draw in overseas visitors, Forum guests and New Zealanders, as they walk around the central city.
The showcase will have a colourful cultural component featuring audio-visual displays and performing groups from several Pacific Island countries.
It will also present an opportunity to conduct business.
The showcase will include a one-day investment summit with thematic discussions covering tourism, agri-business, infrastructure, natural resources, energy and entrepreneurship.
Investment experts and business people from around the Pacific will be there, sharing ideas and telling investors what they have to offer.
The showcase will also present opportunities for Pacific countries to promote their tourism industries and their exports.
We hope the showcase will introduce a new dimension to the work of the Pacific Islands Forum.
We are also aiming to build on the idea of a private sector dialogue, which came about at last year’s Forum.
It will be a practical acknowledgement of our firm belief that regionalism is not just the preserve of governments.
And our belief that all development depends on engaging those with the energy and skill to capitalise on opportunities and generate ideas.
Ladies and gentlemen.
The Pacific Islands Forum is an enduring institution that has surpassed the expectations of those seven leaders who gathered in Wellington in 1971.
New Zealand, along with the other Forum members, has a clear sense that we are a Pacific nation. We know that our future is inextricably linked to that of the Pacific islands region.
We have maintained a strong commitment to the Forum for the past four decades, and I believe the upcoming leaders’ gathering will demonstrate very clearly that this commitment will continue.
We will do our best to make this 40th anniversary Pacific Islands Forum a fitting tribute to the work that has gone before. But more importantly, we will be looking ahead.
We hope that leaders and others who attend the Forum, the showcase, or any of the Forum events, leave with one very clear impression:
That together, the people of the Pacific islands region have the imagination, and above all the will, to turn the potential of this fortunate region into prosperity.