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Cullen Speech: Forum Economic Ministers Meeting

Michael Cullen Speech: Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, Rotorua.


Honourable Deputy Prime Ministers Honourable Ministers Heads of Delegations Secretary–General Representatives of Regional and Multilateral Organizations Official Delegates Ladies and Gentlemen

It is an honour and pleasure to welcome everyone to Rotorua and New Zealand.

The choice of Rotorua as venue for this forum is quite apt. Rotorua is one of the most famous geothermal areas in the world, so we need to realise that as we speak powerful forces surge beneath our feet. It is not a bad analogy for the task of being an economic minister.

Rotorua also has strong links to the Polynesian past and exemplifies one of the major industries that will shape our region in the future.

The Te Arawa people who arrived in the Arawa Canoe from Hawaiki settled the Rotorua area in the middle of the 14th century. The Te Arawa people were also very quick off the mark in seeing the tourism potential of the region. They began hosting visitors in the 19th century when newly arrived settlers to the country would come to see the famous Pink and White Terraces (originally advertised as one of the Seven Wonders of the World) at Lake Rotomahana. This tradition has survived the unfortunate destruction of the terraces, and continues today as strong as ever with their descendents hosting tourists from around the globe. I hope you will enjoy some of the great beauty of Rotorua during your stay.

The Role of FEMM

Since 1997, the annual Pacific Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM) has been an opportunity to focus on the economic challenges facing the Pacific.

Pacific Finance and Economic Ministers have key leadership roles in developing the vision and strategies to meet the governance, economic development and poverty reduction challenges that our island nations face. This year’s FEMM presents an important opportunity to discuss practical ways of working in partnership in the region.

FEMM allows for Finance and Economic Ministers to contribute to the achievement of the Pacific Vision, by promoting economic prosperity, and balancing it with an awareness of cultures and traditions, the imperative for good governance, and the need for sustainable management of the Pacific’s resources.

FEMM 2004 is taking place in a time of a welcome improvement in the global and regional economic outlook. However, the good economic news in the last few years does not lessen the development challenges facing the Pacific islands. There have been extended periods of weak economic growth, high population growth, weakening traditional safety nets, vulnerability to natural disasters, and growing inequalities. Our job as economic ministers may change its focus, but it does not get easier.

While the region shares the challenges of small size and remoteness, the Forum Island countries are nevertheless diverse, reflecting large differences in geography, resources, population size and density, and livelihood opportunities. There are important issues of environmental sustainability, most notably rising sea levels.

Given the constraints the Pacific islands face, regional partnerships including trade, investment and development assistance will continue to be important for the region. That said, it is still important for national governments to lead the way in setting the right economic and social policies that promote the private sector and investment.

Good governance, economic development and growth, improved access to education and health services, and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, are all essential to reducing poverty and increasing standards of living in the Pacific islands.

It is vital that we achieve greater participation by the people of the Pacific in governance and development programmes. One of the ambitions of FEMM 2004 should be to enhance communication between governments on the one hand, and on the other the private sector, civil society, and aid providers. We also must make it a priority to improve the quality of information behind policy dialogues and fiscal, economic and social reform programmes. Inaccurate and unreliable information blurs the focus at the community and national levels and makes it difficult to identify opportunities to address common development challenges regionally.

New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

New Zealand is eager to build on its partnerships in the Pacific Islands and to support the efforts of other development partners and multilateral organisations to address the economic development, governance and poverty reduction issues.

New Zealand’s people-to-people links to the Pacific islands are strong and long-standing. New Zealand is a Pacific nation. We have special constitutional relationships with Cook Islands and Niue.

Many Pacific islands have strong and vibrant communities resident in New Zealand.

Around 6.5 percent of New Zealand people are of Pacific Island origin. Indeed Auckland is the world’s biggest Polynesian city.

Pacific people are playing an important role in New Zealand’s national identity. There can be no better sign of this than the fact that a Samoan New Zealand has just been appointed captain of the All-Blacks.

The New Zealand Parliament includes several members of Pacific Island origin.

The Auckland Declaration

The previous FEMM was held in 2003 the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where the key theme was addressing economic disparities.

This meeting in Rotorua has an additional urgency following the Auckland declaration.

In the Auckland Declaration of 6 April 2004, Pacific leaders agreed that the key goals of the Pacific Forum were economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security and that these goals should form the principal focus of the Forum and its Secretariat.

The Auckland declaration signals that FEMM must look for additional ways to maximise its contribution. We have an important opportunity presented to us as economic ministers to move regional co-operation and integration to a new level with a tighter focus and more concrete objectives.

It is opportune for FEMM to look at reinvigorating its work to align with the key Pacific Forum goals of economic growth and sustainable development.

The Themes of FEMM 2004

So the themes for FEMM 2004 are economic governance and regional integration.

The intention of the Pacific Plan is to provide clear recommendations to Pacific Leaders on a sequence and priorities for intensified regional cooperation.

The important part of the Pacific Plan for FEMM is the assessment of options for sharing resources of governance and intensifying regional cooperation. The Pacific Plan involves the development of proposals for greater cooperation, common structures and pooled resources in a wide range of sectors. We also have an opportunity to review progress on economic reform and regional integration.

Further highlights of this meeting include a key note address on institutional reform by Professor Jackson of Auckland University; a presentation from Transparency International; and a ministerial retreat.

Once again, I would like to express my pleasure and honour in welcoming each one of you to Rotorua. I am sure we will have many opportunities to talk about the challenges facing the Pacific

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