MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP OF LEADERS

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OPENING ADDRESS

12th Summit
of the
MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP OF LEADERS

Hon. Major-General Sitiveni L. Rabuka, OBE {Mil}, OStJ, MSD Prime Minister, Fiji

Warwick Hotel, Korolevu July 23, 1998 At 9.00 a.m.

We begin our meeting today on a sad solemn note. The tragedy in Papua New Guinea is one of inestimable proportions. We, of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, feel great sorrow, and we wish to extend to the leaders and people of Papua New Guinea, particularly those who lost their loved ones, our deepest sympathy in their time of grief.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea. We can only pray that the man of sorrows himself, Jesus Christ, will extend his loving hand of comfort to all of them.

It is my request now that we observe a minute's silence in quiet contemplation and prayer for all those affected by this tragedy.

"MINUTE'S SILENCE"

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders and delegates gathered here today, I wish to convey our sincere gratitude and appreciation for the traditional welcome accorded to us. We, as indigenous people of the Pacific, are proud of our customs and tradition. Our culture is our identity. It is our culture that gives our indigenous community its distinctive characters. So, I sincerely thank the chiefs and people [of Serua] again for the traditional ceremony of welcome. I know that in the welcome you have extended on behalf of your vanua, and the Government and people of Fiji, you have all made our distinguished guests from overseas feel at home.

Ladies and gentlemen:

When I addressed the 11th Summit last year, I made the point that the Melanesian Spearhead Group is vital to the interests of all its member countries. Today, I wish to reiterate that point.

Through this sub-regional group, the Melanesian Spearhead Group has, over the past two years, been successful in projecting a combined position on a number of important regional issues, which have been adopted by the South Pacific Forum. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a reflection of a cohesive group that can help influence the destiny of our individual countries, our sub-region and the South Pacific region as a whole.

If the Melanesian Spearhead Group concept is working and beneficial, then we must all see to it, that it only gets stronger and better. It is in our collective interest, to maintain our commitment to the principles and objectives of the Group, and to promote the ideals and initiatives that the MSG stands for, and believes in.

Ladies and gentlemen:

For this year's summit, we have chosen the theme "Enhancing Trade and Economic Cooperation." In staying true to its meaning, we, as leaders, must consider this as the overriding challenge for our countries. We must seek to explore the full range of opportunities and possibilities that exists within the MSG framework for trade and economic cooperation, and fully commit ourselves to its implementation.

It is quite apparent that we in the MSG have already taken steps towards advancing our theme. This is evident in the existing MSG trade agreement which Fiji signed last year. But the agreement alone, like other trade and economic instruments, serves no purpose unless we organize and commit ourselves to exploiting the opportunities that come with it.

I say this with optimism because of the faith I have in the potential of the MSG. Between ourselves, we share a market of five million of our region's six million people. It is obvious that through trade and economic cooperation, there is much we can do together to take full advantage of this growing regional market.

We must first look at our current decisions in this area from past summits, and consider ways to effectively implement them. We must also identify obstacles to trade and their remedies, and I understand that our senior officials and foreign ministers will be advising us in the course of our meeting on this.

My fellow leaders:

There is simply no other way for us to pursue our economic development except through increased trade. It is clear to us that the economics of our small domestic markets cannot sustain continual positive growth in our economies in the long term.

Alternatively, in this modern day and age, we must export and trade with the rest of the world to survive, as the rest of the world is increasingly doing. It is a global economic force that none of us will have any choice, but to conform to. That is why our nations have been increasingly required to adopt market-based structural adjustment policies for economic reform, to facilitate and accelerate the growth and expansion of our export industries.

If our MSG countries were to look at themselves in the mirror, and checked on their performance, we would find, as evident in the ESCAP Report of 1998, that many of our economies have achieved mixed results in the last five years, generally less than what we had hoped for. In turn, slow growth and growth that is outspread equitably throughout the economy and the country, have led to rising poverty, crime, unemployment, declining incomes and living standards.

Yet for all our countries, it is clear from our own experiences, and learning from others, that higher and sustained economic growth - the kind of growth that provides increased employment across all sectors of the economy and increases people's income in as many parts of the country as possible - can only be achieved if we focus our efforts on attracting increased capital investment in export-based industries.

The enlarged regional market that becomes available to each of our countries as part of the MSG Trade Agreement, therefore, gives all of us an immediate advantage that we must fully explore. It is in this context that Fiji, for example, has looked forward to finalizing trading agreements with each of its MSG partners.

It is in the same spirit, that I urge the Melanesian countries to support greater trade and economic cooperation amongst themselves. Our meeting here and the others to follow, provide us with the opportunity to work out and implement practical ways of achieving trade growth and expansion.

Foremost, we must identify the constraints to increasing trade in the MSG. Some of these, we have covered substantively in our summits, and include issues like improvements to regional shipping services, expanding the MSG Trade Agreement, cooperative customs facilities, and others.

Let us also identify other areas, besides trade, where we increase and intensify our cooperation. Mutual assistance in education and training and technical assistance in aspects of developments where we can share the benefits of our experience, are equally important. Civil aviation, and natural resources development are also important areas of co-operation through information exchanges and possible joint investment ventures. Tourism and sports are also areas we can develop our relations through, especially in light of the Sydney Olympics in the Year 2000.

And let us not forget, all our countries are part of that "ring of fire" that links of all us geologically. The earthquake and tidal wave that struck the northern part of Papua New Guinea with widespread devastation can also happen in other MSG countries. Let us agree to include in our programs of joint cooperation, regular exchanges of information on geological and other natural hazards in each of our countries.

As we gather here for our 12th MSG meeting, let us recommit ourselves to the guiding principles of MSG cooperation - mutual assistance, mutual benefits, and concrete plans of action.

This is what we have gathered here to further develop in the interests of the people that we represent.

Finally, to all our guests from overseas, let me say, once again, to each of you, bula vinaka and welcome to Fiji.

Title -- 1575 POLITICS: Rabuka sympathy over PNG tsunami Date -- 23 July 1998 Byline -- Speech at Melanesian Spearhead Group opening Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Fiji Ministry of Information, news@fiji.gov.fj, 23/7/98 Status -- Unabridged

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