By Al Hulsen

TOKYO, Japan (April 21, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS)---On behalf of the 14 South Pacific Forum island countries, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta thanked the Japanese government Friday for "long-standing programs of development cooperation" and the "investment and involvement" of Japanese business firms in projects throughout the Pacific.

Sir Mekere made the comments at a Tokyo luncheon sponsored by the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

It was the first of a series of events during the day organized to welcome the island presidents, prime ministers and officials to Japan for Saturday’s Pacific Island Leaders Meeting, PALM 2000.

Saturday morning the group will fly to the southern resort city of Miyazaki for a daylong summit session with Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori. Matters to be considered include sustainable economic development in the Pacific Islands region and Japan’s role in making it possible.

In his comments to the senior representatives of Japan’s corporate organizations, Prime Minister Morauta made specific references to Papua New Guinea’s development difficulties.

"When I became Prime Minister last July," he said, "my government inherited an economy on the brink of disaster.

"Government finances were in tatters; inflation and interest rates were over 25 percent; foreign exchange reserves were all but exhausted; the exchange rate was tumbling."

Since then, Sir Mekere noted, there has been a turn-around, with government expenditures "under control." He said "foreign reserves have been rebuilt, the exchange rate is stabilized, and interest rates and inflation are falling steadily."

Hard decisions had to be made and support was needed from elsewhere to achieve the turn-around, he said. He thanked Japan for "bringing together an informal ‘Friends of Papua New Guinea’ group of governments" to provide necessary assistance.

Host for the luncheon was Kosaku Inaba, chairman of both the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Hawaii-based Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC), who extended "a very warm welcome" on behalf of a number of Japanese economic organizations.

Following the luncheon, the Pacific leaders traveled to the imperial palace, surrounded by a moat and a profusion of brilliantly colored spring flowers, where they were greeted and toasted with champagne by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

Later in the day, an evening reception was hosted by Minister of Foreign Affairs Yohei Kono, at which Prime Minister Mori also offered a formal welcome to virtually every head of government in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

In brief comments to the assembled leaders and spouses, he noted his own close ties with the Pacific Islands. His father, he said, had participated in the Pacific War on Truk, now the state of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The first formal session of the second Japan-South Pacific Forum summit will begin Saturday in Miyazaki at precisely 12:40 p.m., following an hour and a half flight from Tokyo.

Announcement of Japanese grants to support Pacific Island development projects is expected to be made before the late afternoon conclusion of the summit and a farewell dinner hosted by Prime Minister Mori.

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