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Tuiloma Neroni Slade Speech at 13th Economic Forum

SPEECHES:
29 October 2009
Introductory Reamrks by Tuiloma Neroni Slade Secretary General,
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat at the 13th Forum Economic Ministers' Meeting

Rarotonga, Cook Islands 27 October 2009


The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Cook Islands, Premier of Niue Vice President of Palau, Honourable Ministers of Forum Member Countries, Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament of Cook Islands Members of the Diplomatic Corps Heads of Delegations Distinguished Delegates and Observers Ladies and Gentlemen:

Allow me on your behalf to extend our grateful appreciation to the Government and people of the Cook Islands for receiving us with such warmth of welcome and friendship. May I thank you Honourable Deputy Prime Minister and your Government in particular for the kindness and courtesies and the splendid arrangements for this meeting of Forum Economic Ministers.

You gather at a time of lingering uncertainties with the global economic and financial situation and their implications for the region. The unprecedented fiscal interventions staged by the major economies to reverse widespread economic decline indicated the severity of the crisis, which was beyond the market to deal with alone. For our small economies the impacts are more pronounced now because of a lag in transmission. More than likely the recovery underway in other regions may not immediately benefit the region. Work to strengthen management systems and to ensure long-term resilience must continue. The efforts invested in addressing the impacts of the food and fuel crises still have relevance and need to be reinforced. I recall that these response measures have featured on your agenda before and in a number of cases implemented. In particular to strengthen fiscal positions, reduce debt burdens, curb inflation, liberalise domestic markets to encourage competition and to build comfortable reserve cushions. Many were finally reaping the benefits of difficult reforms.

This current crisis is threatening to reverse these gains. As a result, we see low-income country growth in 2009 dropping to less than half pre-crisis rates. For the Pacific region major economic drivers such as export revenue, investment, tourism receipts and remittances were affected. This has slowed economic growth for Forum Member countries particularly the Forum Island Countries. Estimates suggest that overall growth in the region will decline significantly in 2009.

The prospect of the global economic crisis diverting the region from meeting national priorities, the Pacific Plan priorities, and ultimately achieving the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, cannot be discounted, and must be counted resolutely and now.

Efforts to formulate and co-ordinate responsive measures must be strengthened and Forum Leaders at their meeting in Cairns have outlined the need for the adoption of actions to build resilience in our economies and to ensure the crisis does not undermine our shared development objectives.

As far as possible, the Pacific response must be collective and embody a combination of actions, policies and initiatives that involve national Governments, regional organisations and development partners. Importantly, the Pacific response must be tailored to Member government needs, their aspirations, capacities, and in cognisance of national development priorities.

In the short-term, I believe that we must be especially mindful of the general social well-being, accentuated political pressures and the importance of partnerships and reform. Over the medium-term, I believe that we must focus on ensuring better food and energy security. For the longer-term, I believe that the regional strategy must focus on building resilience through strengthened capacity, better coordination of action, economic integration and improving standards of governance and leadership.

Allow me to stress that we have an opportunity to deepen regional engagement by exploring ways to better coordinate our responses through shared approaches. We need, as a region, to take charge of a challenging situation to build the foundation for future economic strength. We need in particular to re-assess and renew our commitment to implementing sound economic policy and undertaking appropriate structural reform.

It is significant, therefore, that we adopt ˜Global Economic Crisis: Implications and Policy Responses" as the overarching theme for this year's meeting. During the first session this morning, you will hear about the impacts of the global economic crisis on Forum Island Countries, and will discuss measures that countries may have pursued thus far, and those that need further attention. From these country perspectives, I'm sure we can draw useful experiences in the effort to build more resilient economies through responses at both the national and regional levels.

These responses will require coordination at the national level and with various partners at the national and regional levels. In many cases we will be looking to partners to assist in the implementation of these measures. In this context, this meeting will discuss the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Co-ordination in the Pacific.

From Session 2, the meeting will consider updates on implementation of previous mandates from FEMM. The Forum Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community have jointly made progress towards fulfilling the FEMM mandate for the improvement of regional and national statistics, and information services. A report will be tabled for consideration which contains recommendations which were formulated in consultation with Forum members through a regional workshop held in April at Nadi.

The Forum Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Oceania Customs Organisation have jointly developed an update on the 2007 FEMM mandate to "explore the viability of targeted customs services at sub-regional levels". The findings of the feasibility study, including issues raised at the March 2009 regional consultation workshop, and decisions of the Heads of Customs administrations from the Annual meeting of Oceania Customs Organisation, will be provided.

There will also be an opportunity to discuss the feasibility of regional initiatives to support financial and banking sector development, including the feasibility of establishing a regional financial ombudsperson.

Hon Ministers, allow me to say a little about the risk of natural disasters to our development aspirations. The tsunami disasters in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga is stark evidence of the exposure and fragility of our region. According to the World Bank, natural disasters have cost the Pacific Islands region US$2.8 billion in the 1990s alone. However, it is only at the national level that the true impact of disasters on the economy is visible. The small size of Pacific island economies means that the burden that falls on individual communities is disproportionate beyond measure.

At the regional level, the Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management Framework for Action 2005 “ 2015, outlines the major policy imperatives needed in the region to support the management of disaster. This regional framework was approved by Pacific Forum Islands Leaders in 2005. Additionally, the Pacific Plan, which is the overarching strategic development policy document for the Pacific region, emphasises the need for improved disaster risk management practices and policies to enhance sustainable development.

As we have seen from the recent widespread impact in American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga, despite the progress made through national and partner efforts, significant challenges remain for effective disaster risk management in the Pacific. We have therefore, requested that our relevant CROP agency, SOPAC, make a short presentation later this afternoon to provide an update on specific initiatives that are in place, and actions that still need the attention of policy makers.

Honourable Ministers, your meeting is being closely followed by many friends and development partners, by representatives of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific, and the Oceania Customs Organisation. We are particularly honoured with the presence of World Bank Managing Director Mr Juan Jose Daboub, the Asian Development Bank's Vice-President Mr Lawrence Greenwood Junior, the United Nations Resident Representative Ms Nileema Noble and the International Monetary Fund's Mr Matt Davies.

Honourable Ministers, you do have a full agenda. Your retreat session yesterday and informal discussions in Aitutaki will have set the direction for your proceedings today.

Thank you.


ENDS

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