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Kia Orana:

In 1971, our first leader, Papa Arapati, sat down in Wellington with six other regional Leaders for the very first meeting of the South Pacific Forum. The fundamental purpose of that meeting and all subsequent meetings has been to promote regional co-operation and foster a sense of regional identity in pursuit of both national and regional goals.

Since then, it has been the custom for the Forum to meet in each Member Country on a rotational basis. In 1974, and again in 1985, this nation had the privilege of hosting the South Pacific Forum. Because there are now 16 member countries, with perhaps more to join in time, we most probably will not have the privilege again for another 20 years.

Hosting the Forum on this occasion offers us all an opportunity to enjoy the presence of 15 other Prime Ministers and Presidents, their senior officials and nearly 100 international journalists, the largest media number ever to attend. The Forum, also, will give each of us an opportunity to learn more about our Island Region, its organizations and the manner by which Forum Member countries help one another.

The Forum was established to enable the Leaders of Pacific Island Countries to discuss and plan actions in order to jointly and severally promote the interests of the Forum member countries within and beyond our region. Since that beginning, the Forum has reflected many of the traditions of the region., For example, it has no inflexible rules relating to its purpose, membership or conduct of meetings. Decisions are reached by consensus, it never having been found necessary or desirable to vote formally.

Today, the Forum offers its member countries services in economics, trade, international relations and law. The list of Forum achievements since 1971 is extensive. I have time to mention only a few. From its founding, the Forum has, for example, expressed unequivocal opposition to nuclear testing in the region and has conducted a vigorous program internationally to end such activities. It was right here in Rarotonga in 1985 that Leaders signed the Treaty of Rarotonga declaring the South Pacific to be a nuclear free zone. Constant Forum pressure ultimately contributed to the permanent cessation of nuclear testing at Moruroa and Fangataufa.

Ever mindful of the vital importance of fisheries resources, the Forum, together with other states, has succeeded in abolishing drift net fishing in our region. Through the Forum Fisheries Agency, established by the Forum in 1979, Forum countries continue to co-operate closely in promoting effective management and conservation of fisheries throughout the region.

In recent years, the interests of individual Forum countries and the region as a whole have focused closely on the importance of broad based reform to promote sustainable development. This year’s Forum will have before it for consideration an Action Plan formulated earlier this year by Forum Economic Ministers in Cairns. It deals with such issues as public accountability, promotion of the private sector and international trade issues -- all vital for sustainable development. In accordance with that plan and with the assistance of the Forum Secretariat and others, Forum Countries will work together to enhance national reform efforts such as those we have been undertaking in the Cook Islands.

To carry out its decisions and promote regional co-operation, the Forum has established its own Secretariat as well as a number of major regional organizations to promote regional interests in specific areas. It, also, cooperates closely with other institutions working for our betterment. In Rarotonga for the Forum will be representatives from:

Of particular importance to the Cook Islands has been the recognition by the Forum as a whole of a special sub-group of the entire membership known as the Smaller Island States or SIS. It recognizes that five of the Forum member countries -- Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Tuvalu and the Cook Islands -- face special obstacle to development because of:

So as to overcome such disadvantages, these five countries have met since 1992 for an annual economic summit. The first of such summits was held right here in Rarotonga. This year the summit will be held immediately prior to the Forum and, indeed, delegates to the 7th Economic Summit have already begun arriving in Rarotonga. On Friday and Saturday, the 12th and 13th of September, there will be all day meetings. Among the most significance issues to be discussed are:

By Wednesday next week all of the other Leaders and officials of the Forum member countries will have arrived to join the SIS leaders to participate together in the 28th

South Pacific Forum. The Opening Ceremony will be held in our National Auditorium on Wednesday afternoon.

As is customary in these annual events, the Heads of delegations and their spouses will depart for another venue on the second day, in this case to Aitutaki for all of Thursday. This retreat, as it is known, is another vital part of the Forum. It is there that all the Leaders, in privacy and with confidentiality, have a chance to raise any issues they wish.

It is often at the Retreat that the key decisions affecting the region are reached. Although the discussions are not made public, decisions reached are often subsequently released and formalized.

Then, the leaders will return on Friday, the 19th of September, for two further sessions in the morning and afternoon in the National Auditorium. Later that day, the Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum will host a reception in honor of the Forum Leaders and Forum Dialogue Partner delegations. The latter represent:

Taiwan will also meet separately at the Edgewater for discussions with some Forum Member countries.

Flowing from the Forum on Saturday next and the following Monday, these dialogue partners will meet with the member governments for all day sessions, this time at the Rarotongan Resort Hotel. By including these discussions as a part of the annual Forum, the Leaders have signaled the need for co-operation on a higher international level to promote region interests. At the same time, it is a clear commitment to speak with one voice when speaking of regional matters to those from beyond the region.

Thus, we will have hosted the Leaders, Ministers, Officials and Diplomatic representatives of 24 nations from the 12th to the 22nd of September -- ten days packed with ceremony, fruitful international dialogue and local hospitality.

The 28th meeting of the South Pacific Forum means a great deal to us Cook Islanders and our Island Region as a whole. Just as Cook Islanders share a vision for the next decade, so has the Forum adopted a vision of productive, peaceful co-operation and self-reliance for well into the 21st Century.

Such a regional vision is well worth pursuing for this generation and the next and it will guide the deliberations of this meeting. Most importantly, it states why we each must give our best efforts in our own way to assure that the 10 days commencing tomorrow are highly successful ones -- as I am confident they will be.

As you know, we have a great deal to share with our very important guests, not just the Forum venues but our vibrant culture, our bountiful environment and our warm friendship. I call on the traditional leaders, Te Aronga Mana, the churches, the Non-Government Organizations, the business community, everyone right down to the village level to unite in order that we can make these coming days memorable, not just for our guests but for ourselves as well.

Whilst our islands are known to be beautiful, we can make them cleaner -- the beaches, the roadsides and even our properties and homes. Where you have a drink or a flower to give -- give. A Kia Orana, a handshake or a smile is a precious gift.

I thank all of you who have worked hard to prepare for these coming days, and to all who will offer help and hospitality. May God bless the forthcoming events and may He bless us all.

Kia Orana e Kia Manuia.

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