IMPORTANT COOK ISLANDS TIES FORGED WITH SPC AND TAHITI

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By Alex Sword

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (December 30, 1999 – Cook Islands News)---The decisions reached during the recent First Pacific Conference in Tahiti will provide a sound basis for future growth and effective operation of the SPC in the years ahead.

That is according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Under Secretary Robert Wigmore and his delegation who attended the First Pacific Conference of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, formerly known as the South Pacific Commission (SPC) in French Polynesia from December 5-7 1999.

DELEGATION

As an SPC member the Cook Islands representation included Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Secretary - Edwin Pittman, Ministry of Tourism and Transport Secretary - Aukino Tairea, and President of the House of Ariki - Pa Ariki.

Foreign Affairs and Immigration's Director of the Pacific Division - Carl Hunter represented the Cook Islands at the Pre-Conference 29th Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (CRGA29). This was held between December 1-3 1999 in Tahiti.

Mr. Hunter also attended the First Pacific Conference.

IMPORTANCE

As in past years, the major purpose of both the CRGA29 and the First Pacific Conference was to determine and approve the proposed administrative and work program budgets of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community for the year 2000.

Under Secretary Wigmore, in a media statement said, "Given the importance of the issues discussed, it was essential for [the Cook Islands] Government to be present at this historic conference."

WOMAN DG

This year's gathering of SPC's 27 member countries and territories saw a new director general for the region's oldest organization selected and formally appointed by the conference, replacing Dr. Bob Dun who served for the past four years.

Of the five candidates short-listed for consideration by both the pre and first meetings, Ms. Lourdes Pangelinan, a Guam national, was formally appointed by the First Pacific Conference to the post of SPC's Director General.

Currently, one or two SPC deputy director generals, Pangelinan is the first female to be appointed to head such a regional organization and will take up her new posting in the New Year. (UPDATE: Ms. Pangelinan assumed the post of director general on Thursday, January 6, 2000.)

Wigmore said it is widely acknowledged that Dr. Dun has being the chief architect for pushing SPC through major management and administrative reforms over the past four years, which have resulted in major improvements to the delivery of services and assistance to the people of the region.

However, the under secretary added, "My Government is confident that Ms Pangelinan will ensure that the SPC continues to remain a focused and vibrant regional organization well into the 21st Century."

"As such, the Cook Islands Government, through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, looks forward very much to working closely with our new Pacific leader when she takes the helm of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in the early New Year," he said.

OTHER DECISIONS

Other important decisions reached during conference included:

IMPORTANT ROLE

Under secretary Wigmore said the Cook Islands government recognizes the important role that the SPC plays and places high priority on the commission "in its efforts to contribute positively towards our development, growth and prosperity, both at the national and regional levels."

While at the conference, the Cook Islands delegation took the opportunity to hold discussions with both the ministers of Agriculture and Civil aviation for French Polynesia, and officials from their ministries. This was in relation to developing the same sectors in the Cooks and French Polynesia, and the potential to increase corporation, air links and trade between the two.

Wigmore explained that the opportunity to hold discussions with French Polynesia on agricultural trade and civil matters was a significant bonus. This was "in terms of displaying this Government's commitment towards developing real economic ties between the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, particularly with respect to increasing and improving agricultural trade and investment and civil aviation links."

The under secretary said, "Being an individual with a strong private sector background in the agricultural field, I am well aware of the importance of maintaining and developing strong ties with our close cousins and neighbors, particularly if we are going to look at exporting produce to French Polynesia."

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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