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Charles Chauvel: Speech On Regional Governance

Canterbury University

Conference on Alternative Models of Regional Governance: The Future Architecture of Pacific Regionalism

May 2007

Title: New Zealand Minister: Common Approaches to Common Problems

Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about regional governance in the Pacific.

New Zealand is a part of the Pacific region. When we talk of the Pacific, we’re talking about our own region. We have a partnership with our close neighbours in the Pacific.

New Zealanders’ ancestors came here from many places, and over several centuries; we have a rich tapestry of diverse, intertwined cultural influences. But New Zealand’s history, popular culture, and demography all make clear that we are a country both in and of the Pacific.

For us, then, our engagement with the rest of the Pacific is not a foreign policy choice, but something much more personal. Relationships of family and culture tie us to the Pacific. And today you would be hard put to find a New Zealander, even of European heritage, who thought of home as anywhere but in the Pacific.

We take our relationships with our Pacific neighbours seriously. We acknowledge their independence and sovereignty. Our relationship is one of partnership. New Zealand plays an active part in supporting the Pacific’s cause, in a wide variety of ways including the provision of disaster relief and helping place Pacific concerns on the agenda at major international forums. Around two-thirds of our international development assistance budget is spent in the Pacific. New Zealand is committed to meeting its responsibilities to the Pacific region.

Let me say a little bit about New Zealand’s Foreign Policy in the Pacific and why in addition to our focus on building strong individual relationships with

countries of the region, New Zealand also seeks to encourage regional interventions, regional solutions and why we consider ourselves a part of and not distinct from the region.

Our approach to Pacific regionalism is informed by a number of shared linkages…

In a geographical sense, New Zealand is the southernmost tip of the Polynesian migration triangle- spreading east to Rapanui, north to Hawaii, and west to the Polynesian /Melanesian meeting points of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.

In a constitutional sense the Realm of New Zealand covers not one but 4 countries – the people of the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau are also citizens of New Zealand, and we retain formal responsibility for their defence and, when they ask for it, for assisting with their external relations.

And New Zealand’s only Treaty of Friendship is with another Pacific country- Samoa – and it binds us to give particular weight to consultation with that country, and gives its citizens unique migration access to New Zealand.


And in straight economic terms, the Pacific Island region matters to New Zealand. Two-way trade in goods and services approaches $1 billion annually, and is significant for elaborately transformed goods and services - the ones where the jobs lie.

And culturally, New Zealanders are increasingly a Pacific people. Today, around one in sixteen New Zealanders are of Pacific Island origin and Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world. Moreover, there are significant numbers of Samoans, Tongans, Cook Islanders, Niueans and Tokelauans living in New Zealand.

Taken together with Maori New Zealanders, the growing Pasifika demographic means that close on one in 5 New Zealanders are now of Polynesian ethnicity.

When we consider New Zealand and the Island Pacific we are talking – not about two separate regions – but one single neighbourhood –a shared space and place that shapes New Zealand’s own identity and certainly guides much of our diplomacy.

Challenges Facing the Region

The challenges currently facing the region are significant and growing. For some Pacific countries with small size and scarce resources the increasing demands of modern statehood are extremely difficult. Added to this, there is a vulnerability about many countries in the Pacific.

They are vulnerable physically to cyclones, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Many Pacific islands are low-lying and almost every year cyclones pass through, leaving in their wake a path of destruction. Climate change and environmental challenges are at the forefront of many PIC concerns.

The region is vulnerable economically. With some exceptions - such as Samoa and possibly Fiji and the French Territories - the region is grappling with poor economic performance and governance. Small size, poor economies of scale and limited skills and infrastructure, mean countries are vulnerable to external economic shocks. Shifts in world oil prices and heavy reliance on imported fuels means the Pacific faces considerable risks to small economies and tourism sectors from such dependence. That exposure is increased as a consequence of island reliance on a narrow range of commodities.

It is vulnerable demographically. Large numbers of the working and educated population have emigrated to Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In some instances migration has left the viability of the living community at home under threat- Niue is a case at point with some 1400 people only now left on the island.

In Melanesia particularly, rapid population growth is contributing to decreasing per capita incomes, pressure on land, underemployment, poor educational access, and the presence in urban centres of large numbers of unemployed and dislocated youths. Consequent social problems including crime and ethnic tensions have had a major impact.

Health problems are a major concern. Melanesia, particularly PNG (where HIV/AIDS has taken hold) has some of the worst health indicators in the world. In Polynesia, rates of obesity, heart conditions and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, are also rising to alarming levels.

Countries in the Pacific have also shown themselves vulnerable to poor governance. Indigenous authority systems do not comply easily with western models of political accountability. Failures of governance further compound instability in the region.

But not all challenges are internal to the Pacific region. In today’s world no region is immune from the impacts of wider international developments. We know this as a reality here in New Zealand. In a global environment, where terrorism for example is a real and present risk, the Pacific cannot rely on relative isolation for protection. Nor can the Pacific stand aside from the need to meet international counter-terrorism measures

Organised trans-national crime, including money laundering and narcotics production are already a reality in the region and require concerted international cooperation to be tackled effectively.

We can assist the Pacific with best international practice and assistance. We can adapt a considerable body of practical experience and analytical work to develop more effective responses to the needs of states in our own region.

How can Regionalism and Regional Institutions help?

Responding to the growing challenges of the region requires innovation and a commitment to the long haul. Effective regional approaches and cooperation in partnership with others are keys to New Zealand’s and Pacific countries’ response to the challenges facing the region.

While bilateral engagement is a central focus for New Zealand there is a growing need for regional mechanisms and coordinated regional approaches such as in the case of RAMSI in the Solomon Islands and the Forum led approach on Fiji. Maintaining a common approach within the Forum to political challenges is essential.

We can often achieve more in a multi partner or regional context than we can achieve by acting individually. We are able to work towards economies of scale, sharing or pooling resources and knowledge, and we are able to tackle issues that by their very nature are trans-national in character- such as the management of migratory fish stocks, and better organisation of regional shipping services.

Regionalism can take a number of forms.

Regional Cooperation often involves setting up dialogues or processes between governments. This often means that services such as health, statistics or audit services, are provided nationally, but often with increased coordination of policy planning and delivery between countries - either based on an agreed strategy, such as the Forum Principles on Regional Transport Services or arranged through a coordinating body such as the Oceania Customs Organisation. The role of regional agencies in the Pacific is key in terms of delivering necessary technical and professional advice and services.

The pooling of national services at the regional level means governments are freed from daily management of some services to enable them to concentrate on others. The University of the South Pacific (USP) for example allows Pacific Island governments to focus on delivering primary and secondary education systems that cater to their own unique national needs.

Regional Integration can lower barriers between countries. These may be physical barriers to the movement of people (such as borders) or they may be technical barriers (such as quarantine measures, import taxes or passport requirements). Regional integration has the potential to improve access for Pacific businesses to consumers in the market, to increase economies of scale and therefore reduce prices and make goods more available to consumers. However the Pacific is now only just beginning to investigate the potential of regional integration.

However, whatever form of regionalism we want to pursue, in order to do it effectively, the current organisation of regional structures and processes in the Pacific needs improvement. And determining the most appropriate regional architecture to deliver quality regional outcomes is a key challenge for the Pacific at the present time.

The Pacific Regional Institutional Framework (RIF)

Regionalism and a shared regional architecture is not a new idea in the Pacific. Cooperation in the region goes back a long way, and New Zealand has been active in encouraging regionalism for many years.

The Pacific Islands Forum was established in 1971 at a meeting of Leaders in Wellington. Leaders have developed a strong commitment to meeting annually to discuss developments in the region and how the region’s countries and communities can cooperate more together.

Over the past three decades the Forum – as it is known – has become the pre-eminent regional political body, supported by the Forum Island Secretariat in Suva. It now comprises 16 member countries that meet annually at Leaders level supported by parallel meetings of Ministers and officials who meet more frequently on a range of regional issues.

New Zealand helped initiate a Review in 2003 by a Forum Eminent Persons Group (EPG). The region has since begun to focus on how to better equip existing regional organisations, starting with the Forum Secretariat, to develop and implement key decisions set down by Leaders and to strengthen regional cooperation and integration in the Pacific.

Better equipping Forsec and other regional organisations to work together to advance regional initiatives has been advanced through the achievement of two significant milestones, and work has begun toward a third and final milestone that - if successfully reached - will provide an architecture far more strongly equipped to strengthen regional cooperation and integration.

In 2005 PIC governments adopted a new improved governing treaty for the Forum providing greater clarity to the purpose and operation of the Forum Secretariat. We now have an Agreement which clearly sets out the Forum’s purpose as being “to strengthen regional cooperation and integration, including through the pooling of regional resources of governance and the alignment of policies, in order to further Forum members’ shared goals for economic growth, sustainable development, good governance, and security” (Article II).

Leaders adopted, later that year, the Pacific Plan, a document that calls for the strengthening of regional cooperation. The Pacific Plan represents our most comprehensive and targeted effort yet to give regionalism more substance. It is a rolling effort to identify and deliver into the Forum, year by year, a sequence of practical and well-developed projects which focus on pooling regional resources to meet regional needs and intensifying regional cooperation. It groups the region’s efforts (as well as creating synergies for external donors) in four key areas (or pillars) economic growth, good governance, security and sustainable development.

In recent years there has been an agreed objective of Forum Leaders to re-design and improve the existing regional architecture to bring it into closer alignment with the key pillars of the Pacific Plan, to facilitate implementation of projects under the Pacific Plan and to increase the effectiveness with which institutions deliver services to Pacific Island members. This reform will be a difficult, complex and time consuming. However, New Zealand and our Pacific Island Country partners have a strong interest in ensuring the outcome of this work leads to a stronger and more effective regional institutional structure.

The Forum Secretariat has appointed a well respected and experienced former head of the largest regional organisation the SPC, Lou Pangelinan, as Manager of the task force to develop a concrete and well-defined proposal for a new regional institutional framework for the Pacific. Ms Pangelinan will be consulting widely and she will be presenting a final report on the new optimal solution supportive of the Pacific Plan to Leaders in October.

She is currently developing detailed arguments for a proposed new structure and fleshing out the detail around it ensuring the current location of offices all around the Pacific are retained. She will be addressing the implementation issues for moving to a new, integrated regional structure. This work to allow regional organisations and agencies to cooperate and work together more effectively is the final and arguably the most important step in equipping the institutions of the Pacific to deliver better provision of regional services and ultimately to be able to look toward increased regional integration.

So I applaud both the value and timeliness of this conference and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of your discussions. The future architecture of Pacific Regionalism is a subject of both practical and personal relevance to New Zealand and our priorities for the Pacific.

You have assembled here a number of academics and experts who have experienced and/or studied regionalism in other parts of the world. It will be of great value to hear whether there are models, examples or areas of learning that could be relevant to our Pacific region.

Thank you.


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