Ladies and gentlemen.
Kia Orana and warm Pacific greetings to you all.
Last year New Zealand was very privileged to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Pacific Island Forum leader’s meeting in our own Pacific capital – Auckland.
It was an exciting time, as New Zealand was counting down to the Rugby World Cup and its opening game between the All Blacks and Tonga.
World leaders and delegations from around the Pacific arrived in New Zealand as the best of the Pacific’s products and produce were on display in the Pacific Showcase.
And the City of Auckland paid a fitting tribute to the Pacific’s foremost regional body on its 40th anniversary, setting an optimistic tone for New Zealand’s year as Forum Chair.
Today the mantle of leadership of the Forum formally transfers from New Zealand to the Cook Islands, and to Prime Minister Puna.
The theme of last year’s Forum was ‘converting potential into prosperity’ and we recognised that Pacific fisheries were key to transforming Pacific economies.
That works in very well with the theme the Cooks Islands has chosen, of ‘Large Ocean Island States.’
To my mind this captures a very important idea that the first Forum Leaders who met back in 1971 recognised.
That is, we are nations joined by a large ocean, rather than separated by it.
Too often the obvious potential of the Pacific is overlooked.
We need to focus more on the strengths and assets of our part of the world, rather than pondering on what we allegedly don’t have.
The Cook Islands government’s decision to define our countries as ‘Large Ocean States’ recognises the enormous role the ocean plays in all aspects of Pacific life, and the importance of the ‘Blue Economy.’
The Pacific Ocean is the defining geographic feature of our region.
It is a transport link, a source of food and livelihoods, and its natural beauty is a major attraction for tourists.
I look forward to our discussions over the coming week about how we can make the most of our greatest shared resource.
A year of regional achievements
As Chair of the Forum, New Zealand has focused our efforts in two key areas:
· First, on implementing the Waiheke Declaration and upping the tempo of economic development in the region.
· And secondly, on increasing the Pacific’s presence on the global stage
Last year’s Forum culminated in Leaders endorsing the Waiheke Declaration on Sustainable Economic Development.
In this document Leaders recognised the importance of focusing our efforts on the sectors where the Pacific has a comparative advantage – in particular, tourism, fisheries and agriculture.
It also recognised the importance of education, energy and infrastructure in creating an environment where sustainable economic development can take place.
Importantly, the Waiheke Declaration is more than a document - it is a clear acknowledgement by Leaders that the Forum matters and can make a difference.
The declaration is an excellent example of how much we have to gain when we focus on the region’s potential.
I’ve been very pleased with the practical steps I’ve seen being taken under the declaration over the past 12 months.
The work we commit to at the Forum can deliver tangible and positive improvements in the lives of people across the region, and we have a responsibility to do just that.
I am particularly pleased with how we have all embraced the challenge of making serious progress on renewable energy.
Access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy is vital for Pacific Island nations if they are to unlock their economic potential and reach their development goals.
Most Pacific countries have developed energy sector plans, or ‘energy roadmaps’, and many have set ambitious targets for phasing out their reliance on diesel for electricity generation.
And we have seen the commissioning of significant new renewable electricity generation projects in Tokelau and Tonga.
There are further sites under development across the Pacific, and considerable interest from the international community in investing in renewable energy initiatives.
Given the focus of this year’s Forum on oceans, I would like to speak this evening about the progress we have made on fisheries under the Waiheke Declaration.
Our efforts in the past year have focused on maximising the economic returns from the ocean, while conserving resources for long-term sustainability.
With the support of regional bodies like the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Secretariat of the Pacific Communities, well-defined regional strategies are being implemented to maximise both economic and social benefits of fisheries to Pacific island countries.
Sub-regional groups such as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and the Te Vaka Moana Arrangement are also improving coordination and regional control over the tuna fishery and helping to ensure that different interests are accommodated and advanced.
Collective sub regional fisheries management has helped to substantially increase the return from fisheries to Pacific island countries.
With Pacific island countries successfully asserting ownership and management rights over resources in their 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the power balance is shifting from foreign fishing companies to the rightful resource owners, the Pacific island countries.
Onshore processing, joint ventures, and jobs on fishing vessels are becoming necessary preconditions for access to the tuna.
Fish processing plants in places such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have generated substantial revenue, brought employment to remote areas, and encouraged infrastructure development.
Increasing the Forum’s global reach
One of the major benefits of the Forum is that we are able to speak as one on the world stage.
This gives the Pacific family a much stronger voice in global affairs.
In the last year Forum members have been represented at the Busan Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Korea, and the Rio +20 conference.
At both of these global events we were able to tell a distinctly Pacific story and put forward a uniquely Pacific position.
At Rio, Forum members worked together to promote an outcome which recognised the need for collective action to address the state of our oceans and fisheries.
The importance of small island states or ‘Large Ocean Island States’ getting a greater share of the return from their fisheries resources was also acknowledged.
This has long been a Pacific goal.
We now look forward to the UN General Assembly later this year when - for the first time – Forum leaders will meet with the UN Secretary General in the margins of that meeting.
This was agreed at last year’s Forum and we all welcome this closer UN engagement with the Pacific Forum.
The united Pacific front we have been able to present at these events amplifies our voice and puts Pacific issues squarely on the international agenda.
Strengthening regional institutions
Pacific regional organisations have an important role to play in advancing the regional priorities agreed by Leaders, and we have been keen to ensure these agencies are in the best possible position to support members.
That’s why the region has been working to strengthen institutions like the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community through review processes that have taken place this year.
We think the changes recommended by the Review of the Secretariat will support and strengthen the organisation.
I look forward to discussing the recommendations with my fellow leaders in the week ahead.
The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands continues to be a success story, and is a great example of a regional institution supporting the security and development objectives of a Forum member.
For nine years RAMSI has provided the security required for the Solomon Islands Government to rebuild its country.
RAMSI has included participants from every Forum member country, and it is a regional institution of which the Forum can be proud.
We have closely watched the developments in Fiji over the last year and we welcome the steps being taken to prepare for elections in 2014.
I know developments in Fiji continue to be closely watched by the Forum, and I look forward to hearing what my fellow Leaders have to say on Fiji’s constitutional process over the next couple of days.
In conclusion, it has been a great honour for me to be Prime Minister of New Zealand during the year when we had the privilege of Chairing the Pacific Islands Forum.
The mission for our year as Chair was to help convert the region’s potential into lasting prosperity, and give the Pacific greater prominence on the world stage.
As we pass the baton to the Cook Islands, I am confident we have done what we set out to do.
And I am equally confident Prime Minister Puna and his team will continue the work that has been started – to develop Pacific economies, build a more confident outward-looking regional body and improve livelihoods for all Pacific people.
In the spirit of partnership, we will support the Cook Islands in 2012, and future chairs in subsequent years, to realise the vision of a secure, equitable and prosperous Pacific.
The Forum is testament to the fact that as a collection of ‘Large Ocean Island States’ we can achieve more than each alone.Tweet