Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum meeting in Auck
Oped from the Speaker of the House, Hon Margaret Wilson MP
Parliamentarians from more than 20 countries gathering in Auckland at the end of [next] week [20 Jan] will be pressing for action on some of the Asia-Pacific region’s thorniest problems, writes Speaker of the House Margaret Wilson.
On Sunday, while many New Zealanders are thinking about barbecues and the beach, around 400 parliamentarians and support staff from around the Asia-Pacific region will be settling down to five days’ work.
The occasion is the 16th annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF), a process set up in the early 1990s to make sure legislators from the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic region had an opportunity to work together on the major issues of the day.
It’s true that the APPF is not one of the best-known or showiest groupings around. It does not involve heads of government and the focus is more on poring over resolutions than on public events.
However, this meeting is an important one for New Zealand and we are proud to be taking our turn to host.
The Asia-Pacific region is one of the major hubs of world affairs and we are very much ‘part of the neighbourhood’. This is not just a matter of geography. New Zealand is increasingly linked to the region by demography (around nine percent of us claim Asian ethnicity and around seven percent Pacific ethnicity) and the bonds created by fast-growing person-to-person links, cultural connections and trade.
What goes on in the huge area to our north and immediate west really does matter to us, and we cannot afford to simply be passive spectators.
For that reason we are already involved with a number of groupings in the region – APEC is the best-known but there are others, including the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), with which we are a dialogue partner, and now the East Asia Summit process.
These are vitally important connections but they are not substitutes for involvement with the APPF. The Forum is unique because it operates not between governments, but between individual parliamentarians of every political hue and level.
Many of those involved in the Forum are senior in their own parliamentary systems and have considerable input into the policy-making of their own parties. Others are up-and-comers who, in years to come, will play leading roles in the development of their countries.
The value for our own MPs in forming good working relationships and friendships with their equivalents in other nations cannot be overstated. Participation in the APPF is an investment in our future.
Another key benefit to New Zealand from membership of the APPF is the range of issues it considers. The benefit is not necessarily a matter of legal authority – the Forum works according to consensus, and, because it does not represent governments, its communiqués do not have binding status.
The value comes from the fact that resolutions put forward by member governments for deliberation and eventual incorporation in the final joint communiqué are closely considered by decision-makers from a large number of significant countries.
The APPF helps New Zealand and other active participants float some of their major concerns within the Asia-Pacific and global communities.
Let’s consider a couple of the resolutions that New Zealand is putting forward.
One of the most significant relates to cluster munitions – that is, small ‘bomblets’ delivered within larger bombs – that remain scattered, live and lethal long after conflicts have ended.
As it did with land-mines, New Zealand has taken a strong international stand to rid the world of these obnoxious weapons. In fact, in February we are hosting a major international conference as part of a global process to have their development, production and use banned.
It’s a major boost to this initiative to have on the APPF schedule a resolution that encourages members to support a binding international agreement on cluster munitions by the end of this year [subs: 2008].
Another important resolution we are sponsoring looks to encourage a five-year moratorium on switching land currently used for growing food to growing energy crops, and discourage the clearing of indigenous or ecologically important land for growing energy crops. The resolution also calls for APPF members to investigate the development of biofuels made from non-food sources such as waste and cellulose.
Increasing awareness of the need to move away from fossil fuel use has encouraged international interest in growing biofuel crops. This is a positive development – as long as enough land is still used for producing food, and conservation areas are protected. Our resolution ensures this important issue is placed squarely on the Asia-Pacific agenda.
New Zealand is sponsoring other APPF resolutions that reflect our national perspective on issues of importance to the region and the world.
These cover the search for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, mutual skills recognition between countries as a mechanism for strengthening economies, preventing the spread of bird ‘flu, improving access to sanitation and clean drinking water, bringing free elections and an end to human rights abuses in Myanmar, and protecting free speech and eliminating poverty.
These are goals that, I believe, all New Zealanders will be pleased to have pursued in their name.
The Auckland meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum is one of many ways in which New Zealand can seek, despite its small size, to influence the international agenda.
I am proud that New Zealand has the opportunity to host a gathering that will allow us to make our voice heard in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, and build much-needed bridges between the legislators of the region.