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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 2, 2000 – Radio Australia)---In a New Year’s message, Noel Levi, Secretary General of the 16-nation South Pacific Forum, has urged regional leaders to remain united in their efforts to resolve regional issues.

Despite some successes, he said, the region still faces challenges over such matters as tuna fishing, decreasing aid, and tighter trading conditions. In addition, he said, "We have not yet achieved our final objectives in the areas of climate change and sea level rise, transportation of nuclear materials, and resource use."

Mr. Levi also criticized the way in which some member nations change their leaders, and said it is crucial for Pacific countries to work together.

"We are also witnessing some fluidity in our political and security environment, with a relatively high turnover in government leadership.

"With issues of resource ownership and use becoming more contentious throughout the region, much of the pressure comes from population growth and rising expectations.

"But a lot of it comes from our own inability to manage our affairs properly," he added.

In his message, the Secretary General also repeated his call for the establishment of a regional free trade zone which, he said, will help not only with trade but also job creation and financial investment in the region.

Earlier, the Forum agreed to establish a free trade zone within eight to 10 years.

A free trade zone, he said, is one way to help create self-sufficiency.

"The forum trade area will . . . create a common market of six million people.

"It will also create for the Forum Island countries a firm foundation for dealing with extra-regional trading partners, and globalization in general," Mr. Levi said.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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