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Tongan PM address at Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting

Tongan PM speech at Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting

Forum Trade Ministers Meeting 18-19 May 2011 Puataukanave International Hotel, Vava’u, Kingdom Of Tonga

Opening Address By The Lord Tu’ivakano Prime Minister Of The Kingdom Of Tonga Wednesday 18 May 2011, Neiafu, Vava’U, Kingdom Of Tonga

Honorable Richard Marle, Australian Parliamentary Secretary Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon. Fonotoe LAUOFO Deputy Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Hon. Tom Marsters Honourable Trade Ministers Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade Lord Sevele, Acting Governor of Vavaâu Heads of Delegations from Forum Countries, Ministers from New Caledonia and other Observer members Officials from other CROP Agencies, Members of the Clergy Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Welcome to Vava’u, and I wish to offer you all, my warmest greetings, and congratulations on your agreement in Pohnpei last year to have the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting here in Vava’u, the only second island to embrace the title ‘The Great Vava’uâ€, after 'Great Britain'. Vava’u is not only ‘Great’ but also a safe place in times of natural disasters, and is therefore known as the Port of Refuge. As such it is a fitting venue for Ministers from the region to gather and discuss the very full agenda of trade related matters.

Trade is integral to all of our economies, whether it be a reliance on imports to sustain our people, a reliance on exports to obtain foreign currency, a reliance on taxation being generated from trade, even as we try to move away from this model, a reliance on tourism and service exports to again contribute to our national and regional economic interests.

Even for a small island like Vava’u, trade is integral to its economic survival. In the past, crops such as ‘vanilla’ and ‘kava’ were export products and significant income generators for the people of Vava’u. It is my hope that through progress made in on-going regional trade negotiations, will again contribute to Tonga’s export position. It is no doubt that the most significant contribution to this island is through tourism, and trade in services, including our workers benefiting from existing labour mobility schemes to New Zealand and Australia.

Tourism work has also estimated that the whales here in Vava’u may be worth in excess of over One Million Pa’anga. It is vital that we work to open niche markets such as these to connect trade opportunities, but that we maximise the development assistance that supports trade agreements to our respective benefits as is the focus of the work on Aid for Trade.

I wish to acknowledge the efforts of Minister Lisiate ‘Akolo who has worked closely with the Forum Secretariat to arrange the first ever Pasifiki Trade Fair to be held here in Vava’u tomorrow to showcase the products from the island and to capitalise on the visit from our Pacific Trade and Invest Commissioners. Pacific Trade and Invest is another example of the support needed to build our marketing linkages for goods and services, and we are very pleased to have the Forum’s Trade Commissioners from New Zealand, Australia, Japan and China with us for this event.

I am informed of the demanding range of issues that awaits your consideration in this meeting, including: PACER Plus and how we can build a way forward with our trading partners and development partners in the face of changing priorities, and what may have been perceived as a slow start, the functionality and deliverables to date and the high expectations for the forward work-plan, from the now formally incorporated Office of the Chief Trade Adviser the critical development and marketing support provided through the focus on trade facilitation, and the Aid for Trade agenda, and finally, a review of where we are with progress on the broader trade negotiation programme for the region.

Tonga believes PACER Plus is integral to our growth and development. Minister Lisiate ‘Akolo and his staff are pursuing our renewed commitment to the PACER Plus table. As considered by Forum Leaders, it is the time for Forum Countries to work together to shape the region’s trading future. It is time to move forward and to make real advances in the negotiation. Granted, we need to find a pace that is suitable to all, but this pace must become a reality. We must not miss our opportunity to work more closely with each other and drive economic growth, growth through integration and growth through development. This is true not only for PACER Plus but for other negotiations we are working to conclude.

I also wish to acknowledge our tireless Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, thus recognizing the 40th Anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum, for its excellent work, and coordination of the Forum Trade related work programme. A continuing leadership during these unprecedented and challenging times, is extremely important for the Pacific. A testament to the Forum leadership that has been the persistent pursuit, not only through the Pacific Plan, but also the adoption by Leaders in 2009 and 2010, to commence PACER Plus negotiations, amongst other trade negotiations, as instruments to implementing the Pacific Plan drive to promote regional economic integration.

To conclude, I am very pleased on this occasion, to formally declare the Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting, open, and wish you well in your deliberations.


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