PACIFIC ISLAND BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS CONCLUDE MAUI, HAWAI‘I MEETING

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KIHEI, Maui, Hawai’i (November 14, 1999 - Maui Pacific Center)---Business and government leaders from 11 Pacific Island states gathered in Maui November 9 - 12 for the ninth annual Pacific Islands conference hosted by the Maui Pacific Center.

"The Role of Business Associations in Pacific Island Economic Growth" was the topic under discussion, providing a forum for business and government leaders from Pacific Island countries and territories to develop strategies to stimulate growth in their nations' private sectors and, in turn, the entire Pacific region. Seventeen business associations -- Chambers of Commerce, Women in Business groups, Manufacturer's Associations, and professional organizations -- from the island region were represented at the conference sponsored by the Maui Pacific Center and East-West Center.

Discussions focused on the current environment for business associations, how these associations can be strengthened and better serve their members, avenues for government/business cooperation in building the islands' economies, and opportunities for linking to reach regional and global markets. Information was available on organizations which provide assistance to the region's business communities.

While the associations in attendance had different type of structures, they shared a common mission to be a voice for the private sector with government and the community. As fiscal constraints require governments in the region to downsize, increasingly services once considered part of government's responsibilities are being assumed by the business community. The more efficient and well organized the business sector is, the more readily it can respond to and meet the changing needs of the country, thus playing a significant role in the development of the economic growth of the entire region.

Three problem areas in the islands' development were discussed, including high tariff rates, inadequate shipping and airline passenger routes and schedules, and the very high cost of telecommunications, which hampers access to the Internet, seen as an increasingly important vehicle for communication, product and market research, commerce, and education.

Keynote speaker W. Noel Levi, CBE, Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat located in Fiji, reported on the free trade agreement which is being developed among 14 members of the Forum. After highlighting the decreasing foreign aid to the region he said, "All Forum members have begun to respond to these challenges by undertaking reforms to enhance economic management and liberalize their economies." He went on, "The benefits of the potential economies of scale generated by the creation of a single market of six million people rather than 14 fragmented ones will be obvious to anyone in the business community. Free trade will also encourage regional cooperation in areas of trade facilitation such as customs, quarantine, standards and statistics."

Secretary General Levi reported that a free trade arrangement has been endorsed in principle and that by 2009 it may include expansion beyond goods to include services. "The service agreement will allow participating countries to append protocols on telecommunications, shipping and air services that will create a larger and unified market, thereby lowering the cost of these services," he said. The need to consult and work together in the creation of the free trade area will be important and necessary, he said, and "Government needs strong, representative business associations with which to interact."

Speaker Gregory Davis of the Center for International Private Enterprise summarized the importance of business associations. These groups, he said, do much more than promote and advocate the interests of business. They also strategize how to attract and retain businesses, spearhead leadership development, consult and advise government about draft laws and regulations affecting trade and industry, develop strategies to prepare the labor force, create economic development initiatives, establish codes of conduct, and promote entrepreneurial climates for growth.

Chambers of Commerce and other business associations must serve as role models for businesses in their communities, according to Lynne Woods, President of the Maui Chamber of Commerce. She emphasized that an association must have strong leadership, be financially solvent, operate openly and with integrity, and communicate effectively with its members, government and the community.

The president of Samoa's Manufacturer's Association (SMA), Eddie L. Wilson, reported that the SMA has created a 5-year strategic plan based on input from members, government, and other economic operators. The organization supported many of the reforms undertaken be government in recent years, is now working cooperatively with the Chamber of Commerce and other economic groups to support measures for government to enhance the competitiveness of the private sector.

Kirtley Pinho, President of the Majuro Chamber of Commerce, reported that as the infrastructure of the Marshall Islands has improved significantly over the past 20 years, so too has the private sector grown. Joint public and private efforts have led to improvements in electrical facilities, water supply, sewage system, harbor facilities, airport improvements, and communications. Both sectors work together to attract investment, increase incentives to do business, and cooperating in trade missions.

Mr. Pinho went on to say, "The Pacific region will remain strong with the combination of a parliamentary system, a democratic system and it must not forget its traditional system." This sentiment was echoed by many speakers, who felt there is a role for the traditional system to play in economic development and the challenge to business associations is to find ways to build the economy in cooperation with village-based, small scale projects. As Mike Brooks, Vice President of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce said, "Healthy nations need healthy rural economies." Women in Business groups in the region are playing an important role in this area.

Other speakers at the conference included: David Tydingco, President, Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association; Dhiraj Lal Hemraj, Fiji Institute of Accountants; Leilani Ngirturong, Executive Director, Palau Chamber of Commerce; Yann Pitollet, representing the New Caledonia Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Paul de Villers, Regional Advisor for Private Sector Development, UN ESCAP in Vanuatu; Floyd Takeuchi, Editor & Publisher, Hawaii Business Magazine; Stanley Hong, President, and Paul Rehob, Vice President, The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii; Robert Fujii, Chairman-elect, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii; Lee Weimer, representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; David Lassner, Director of Information Technology, University of Hawaii; Gregory Wong, Director, Export Assistance Center, U.S. Department of Commerce; and Robert Lees, Secretary General, Pacific Basin Economic Council.

Workshops at the conference focused on the challenges faced by business associations in the region and strategies to build leadership in the organization, attract and retain members, better represent the membership, and utilize best practices to improve the effectiveness of the associations.

A conference outcome included a strong endorsement for the Maui Pacific Center 1) to create a Internet-based clearinghouse of information for business associations to help those groups develop in the islands region and 2) to conduct an assessment of the Chambers of Commerce in the region to determine what assistance they need to become stronger and more effective. This will be accomplished by working with the associations in the region, and in consultation with UNDP, South Pacific Forum Secretariat, and East-West Center. Further, there was support for the development of a Business Center of Excellence in Hawaii to disseminate and promote best practices in core business areas, to be organized by Harlan Lee & Associates and Production Technology Inc.

Sponsors of this conference included Maui Pacific Center, East West Center, U.S. Department of Interior, United Nations Development Program, The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Maui Chamber of Commerce, and Outrigger Hotels & Resorts.

Additional information on this conference is available by contacting Maui Pacific Center by telephone (808) 875-2310, fax (808) 875-2306 or e-mail info@mauipacific.org.

Diane Zachary President & CEO Maui Pacific Center 590 Lipoa Parkway, Suite 202 Kihei, Hawaii 96753 USA Telephone: (808) 875-2319 Fax: (808) 875-2306 E-mail: www.mauipacific.org 

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