Sharing Capacity: The Pacific Experience

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by Mr. W. Noel Levi, CBE Secretary General, South Pacific Forum Secretariat at the Commonwealth Secretariat/World Bank Global Conference On The Development Agenda For Small States

London, England

February 17-18, 2000

with Regional Cooperation and Integration

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am going to take this opportunity to summarize some of the highlights of my circulated paper.

The 14 Forum Island Countries, or FICs, are diverse - having their own cultures, languages, and systems of government. They vary in landmass and population and are developing economically at different rates and with different focii. However, despite seemingly great differences, members have found sharing their capacity through regional cooperation to be a positive way of overcoming their common problems of small size and geographic isolation.

The South Pacific Forum is one of a number of regional organizations operating in the Pacific. The Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific, or CROP, comprises the South Pacific Forum Secretariat, The Secretariat of the Pacific Community, The Forum Fisheries Agency, The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, The South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, The University of the South Pacific, The Tourism Council of the South Pacific and The Pacific Islands Development Program.

CROP plays an important role in ensuring that the work of these organizations, each with different memberships, does not become duplicative.

As Secretary-General of the Forum Secretariat I chair CROP.

CROP has also endorsed a Regional Strategy which was initiated in response to a call by Pacific island leaders for a more meaningful role in setting regional development priorities and programs.

One of the potentially most significant undertakings in regional cooperation between Forum island countries is the Pacific Regional Free Trade Agreement or PARTA.

The 1999 Forum Leaders meeting in Palau endorsed the PARTA between Forum Island Countries. It will be implemented in stages over a period up to 2009 for developing Forum Island Countries and 2011 for the Smaller Island States and Least Developed Countries. This allows time for adjustment by both government and business to the new trade regime.

A proposed draft agreement will be ready for the consideration of Trade Ministers and subsequently by Forum Leaders at the 2000 Forum meeting. Over the next two years negotiation towards finalizing a framework agreement will be undertaken.

A PARTA offers theoretical advantages in overcoming the fundamental constraint to the development of the FICs - namely their small size. The PARTA expands the size of the home market through giving preference to other FICs and results in greater economic integration of FICs. Additionally a PARTA creates more potential for business people and so encourages intra-FIC trade and business growth, so reducing the vulnerability of FICs to external shocks. A PARTA will give a stronger foundation for responding to globalization and universal trade liberalization. Finally, the PARTA is a strong political message that can help arrest the political and economic marginalization of the Forum Island Countries.

I would particularly draw your attention to the developments which have paralleled the PARTA in the areas of trade facilitation, quarantine, product standards and customs procedures. These are indicative of the PARTA not being regarded as an endpoint. A long-term visionary approach, which could encompass options for both the broadening and deepening of the PARTA, is required.

There are two further areas of cooperation between Forum Countries that I would like to mention. These are the coordination of development cooperation assistance and cooperation in sectoral issues.

To promote building of the donor-recipient relationship an annual meeting of Pacific Island Countries and their development partners is organized by the Forum Secretariat. The aim is an improved understanding of how best to enhance the way the region engages in development cooperation. The Post-Forum Dialogue remains the key mechanism for promoting regional concerns with interested extra-regional states. Currently ten extra-regional states are involved. This process provides a venue for high-level discussion of developmental and international issues of importance to the region.

The Forum Secretariat plays a role in coordinating requests for assistance from the region to donors. We also have a strong involvement in both the European Union regional program and the Canada-South Pacific Ocean Development Program.

The strong economic advantages of sectoral cooperation are also being realized in the Pacific. These include: significant economies of scale; efficient negotiation of international agreements on common sectoral issues; and more effective development of, and support for, national sectoral policies. Regional cooperation is occurring in the aviation, shipping, telecommunications, and education sectors as well as on the issue of regional security.

In conclusion, let me recognize that the Forum has achieved much in the promotion of regional cooperation since it came into existence in 1971. The initial teething problems of trust and an inability to see national benefits arising from regional cooperation have been largely overcome. The future holds much for Forum island countries as, through the PARTA and other cooperative actions, they work together to overcome the limits of size and isolation, helping each other and presenting a united voice on the world stage.

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