MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP LEADERS REAFFIRM COMMITMENT TO FREE TRADE AREA

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 5, 1999 - PACNEWS)---Leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) have reaffirmed their commitment to the proposed MSG Free Trade Area as a nucleus for enhancing trade liberalization in the region.

On trade and economic cooperation, the leaders, at the end of their two-day summit in Port Vila last week, agreed that the two developed MSG countries, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, should implement the Free Trade Area concept by the Year 2003.

Vanuatu and Solomon Islands would then follow two years later.

Leaders also expressed the need for an MSG secretariat to better coordinate and effectively implement their decisions.

They also approved an arts and cultural festival for Melanesian countries to be held in 2002. This, according to a statement from the MSG, is in response to the 1995 Lakatoro Declaration which called for the establishment of a Melanesian Arts and Cultural Council.

A Vanuatu proposal to host the inaugural festival was approved.

The leaders also welcomed an offer by the Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia to host a mini MSG arts and cultural festival, which is likely to be held during the later part of 2000 or the beginning of 2001.

The next MSG Leaders' Summit will be held in the Solomon Islands in 2001.

The MSG is comprised of the Fiji Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and officials of New Caledonia’s pro-independence party, the FLNKS.

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