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Pacific Island countries need to greatly improve the quality of their statistical information with the assistance of donors if they are to develop better economic and social policies.

This is one of the messages the Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat, Mr. Noel Levi, CBE will be taking to a Ministerial meeting this week which will consider the impacts of the Asian financial crisis.

"It is apparent that there is a severe lack of timely and comprehensive data both in East Asia and among the Pacific island countries, and this needs to be addressed with high priority in order that economic and social policies can be developed with more confidence.

"In this respect greater technical and financial assistance is required in the collection and collation of statistics as this is fundamental to good social and economic policy formulation," Mr. Levi said on the eve of his departure for the meeting in Sydney, Australia.

The Secretary General said Forum Island Countries, with the notable exceptions of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands which relied heavily on exports of natural resources such as timber to Asia, have largely escaped fallout from the East Asian Crisis.

Initial concern had focused on tourism, which was identified as the most widespread sector at risk. Even though there was a loss of tourism business from Asia and while East Asia as a destination had become more competitive, tourism in the Pacific continued to grow.

"This reflects relatively quick reactions in the region to the Crisis through exchange rate depreciation and growth in other markets bolstered by the buoyancy of the United States economy and continued growth in Australia.

"While recognizing that the impact of the crisis was largely contained within East Asia, the impacts on Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands demonstrate that there is a need to acknowledge that some countries outside the region have also suffered significantly. These need as much attention, in terms of financial and other assistance, from development partners as East Asia has received," he said.

The Secretary General said Forum countries recognized the need to develop more flexible and open economies in order to better absorb shocks, to take advantage of new global growth opportunities and to utilize aid more effectively.

"However, reform will not overcome the inherent barriers facing the development of mature, well-balanced economies among Pacific islands. Being small in population and land area is an absolute barrier to developing diversified economies and achieving economies of scale in infrastructure services. Isolation creates difficulties for accessing markets and also inevitably raises business costs.

"Further, the Asian crisis illustrates that achievement of high growth rates and benchmark income levels is not sufficient reason to sharply reduce aid. These should be taken as a signal that technical assistance should be redirected toward assisting economic management in ways more suitable for dealing with maturing economies, in which previously developing economies will have little experience.

"Prevention is more effective than a cure. The knowledge and priorities developed in dealing with the Asian Crisis should be conscientiously applied to other developing countries, such as those in the Pacific," Mr. Levi said.

For additional information: Ulafala Aiavao (

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