Post-Forum Dialog UK Opening Statement

admin's picture

31ST PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM Tarawa, Kiribati October 30, 2000

Post-Forum Dialog

UK Opening Statement

John Battle, MP Minister of State Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Last New Year's Eve, I was on Millennium Bug watch back in the UK. Then, Kiribati brought in the new Millennium in a spectacular fashion, setting a new global tone for the twenty first century - a world in which all of us have a unique part to play, a unique contribution to make.

I am delighted to be here today, and to have the chance to address this very distinguished meeting. Before I go any further I think I really should pay an enormous tribute to the Kiribati authorities and the way they have organized this year’s Forum. I am delighted that we can hold our meeting today in this splendid new building.

Relations With South Pacific

Although we are at different sides of the globe, the South Pacific is still very important to us in the UK, not only because of our strong historical links, but also because of the basic values we share. Values such as the liberty of each man, woman and child under the law; equal rights for all citizens, regardless of gender, race, color, creed or political belief; respect for democratic processes and institutions; the rule of law; the independence of the judiciary and good governance. I warmly welcomed the way that your Foreign Ministers publicly declared their support for these principles at their meeting in Apia in August and am delighted that you endorsed the same principles at your meeting yesterday.

The United Kingdom’s links with many South Pacific countries exist not only through government-to-government contacts but increasingly through networks of individuals, clubs, universities and other organizations which often far outweigh contacts at official level. We are delighted that many Pacific Islanders continue to be attracted by training and tertiary education in the UK. We award educational scholarships to a significant number of Pacific Islanders each year and hope to become increasingly involved in deepening democracy in other areas including police training and human rights. Such assistance might help South Pacific States to overcome the unique challenges that you face and enhance stability and development in the region.

To that same end, we are also keen to promote the role of the regional bodies in the South Pacific, including that of the Pacific Islands’ Forum. It makes sense to seek common solutions to common problems. But regional stability, good governance, human rights, economic growth and environmental conservation are important to all of us. That is why we value our role as a Dialogue Partner and why we welcome the opportunity for an exchange of views such as this.

I want to turn now to the specific topics you have identified as agenda items for today’s meeting, and to say a few words on each. I hope that we will be able to discuss some of these topics in more detail later on.

Trade

Firstly, trade and investment issues. As well as being the Minister in the British Foreign Office with responsibility for the South Pacific, I am also responsible for overseas trade. Of course, this trade has to be to our mutual benefit, and business is now taking into account the protection of the environment and social development. I was interested then to see the importance of trade in our bilateral relationships. Two-way trade between the UK and the South Pacific Islands in 1999 was £172million; the majority - it must be said - in your favor. The United Kingdom is therefore clearly a significant market for the Pacific Islands. It is important that we build on this already strong relationship. There are clear opportunities for British companies to increase their trade with the Pacific region and for countries in the Pacific to increase their trade with the UK. The British Government is always working to persuade more British companies to visit and to see at first hand the potential for trade and investment in the South Pacific. I hope that you will be able to support our efforts in whatever way you can.

Over the years, Pacific Island countries have been significant beneficiaries of British trade. Indeed, I have been struck by the level of British company investment and commercial interest in the region. However, I must qualify this by pointing out that British companies generally do invest heavily in overseas markets. Inevitably the Pacific Islands face very strong competition from other countries, especially in the wider Asia Pacific Region. We would not want to see you losing out. It is therefore vital that you do your utmost to ensure that the right conditions - such as economic, political and financial stability and regulatory frameworks – are in place to attract investment, not only from Britain, but also from elsewhere.

We welcome Forum members’ continued commitment to free and open trade and the development of a Free Trade Area in the South Pacific. The UK supports regional activity, which contributes to the multilateral trade liberalization process. But we continue to believe that the most effective means of keeping markets open and expanding trade is by continuing to strengthen the WTO. That is why we remain committed to launching a comprehensive Round of multilateral negotiations, which will allow all countries to benefit in a wide range of areas. Crucial to this is the full integration of developing countries and LDCs into the multilateral trading system. This will enable them to maximize the benefits of further opening of markets. Seattle demonstrated the need for greater transparency and inclusiveness in the WTO decision-making process: we strongly support this reform agenda.

We recognize that some developing countries and LDCs have genuine concerns over their position in a new trade Round and their ability to implement its outcomes. We understand these concerns and are keen to respond. We also need to co-ordinate and target our development and technical assistance better. We need to put in place Fast Track strategies to increase the scope and effectiveness of programmes targeted at individual countries’ needs. We are ready to act now to receive some of the implementation concerns developing countries have identified in the current Geneva review. Others can only be resolved in future negotiations.

In addition, the UK will continue to press for the elimination of tariffs on exports from LDCs. We welcome the European Commission’s recent proposal aimed at providing duty and quota free access to all LDC goods except arms by 2003. We call on other developed countries to match this commitment. We recognize that this is only part of the solution but feel it would act as tangible evidence of our wish to see LDCs and other developing countries fully integrated into the multilateral trading system.

Climate Change & Sea Level Rise

The twin challenges facing all humanity on our globe in the 21st century are clean water and energy. The Pacific Islands states are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. I know that many people across the region are under threat. Coastal settlements will be at risk from rising sea levels, flooding and storms, coastal erosion and land loss. Many islands could become uninhabitable if drinking water is contaminated by seawater. We are already seeing the impact of rising sea levels: one island in Kiribati and one in Tuvalu have already disappeared and many more are threatened.

Action to address the impact of climate change - by reducing greenhouse gas emissions - is being taken through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UK is fully committed to this process, and we are working hard for a successful outcome to the international negotiations in The Hague in November that will allow Parties to ratify an environmentally credible Kyoto Protocol. We have already started to take the action needed to meet our Kyoto target and want to see all developed countries do the same.

We recognize the importance that many countries in this region rightly attach to the climate change negotiations. We also realise that one aspect of the negotiations where there will need to be progress is the issue of adaptation to climate change. We share a common purpose in these negotiations - to see effective international action - and we look forward to working together closely at the negotiations in November.

Development Strategy

We are continuing to provide development assistance to the Pacific region in accordance with the Pacific Region Strategy document published last year.

Our Pacific Region Strategy emphasizes the importance of close co-operation with key regional players, including other bilateral and multilateral donors. Nearly half of Britain’s development assistance is channeled through multilateral agencies – the European Community, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the UN agencies. We will continue to take a keen interest and play a constructive role in their operations both through active membership of their governing bodies and in the development of partnerships in the field.

We will continue to support selective action at national level in Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and to build support to regional organizations, which enhance capacity and self-reliance. Our current support to the Forum Secretariat includes funding adviser positions in the social policy, gender and multilateral trade areas; providing funds for the planned Education Ministers’ Conference, and research and analysis in a number of key policy areas.

Expansion of Pacific ACP and Cotonou Agreement

We were pleased to have been able to provide support to the Forum Secretariat to enable the Pacific region to participate actively in the post Lomé negotiations. We were also delighted that six new Forum members were able to join the ACP group in July this year. The Cotonou agreement provides the basis for a stronger and more vibrant partnership between the EU and the ACP geared towards poverty eradication. We are keen to take this forward by exploring the possibility of support on wider development issues such as helping to deliver the poverty elimination focus of the EU’s country programmes in the region in the light of the recent ACP/EU Cotonou agreement. We are also interested in working with Pacific Island countries – through the Forum Secretariat – in response to the challenges posed by globalization and market liberalization. The opportunities and challenges that globalization poses for developing countries will be the focus of a second UK Government White Paper on international development due to be published this year.

Regional Security

I wholeheartedly endorse the discussions you have been having about how to improve the Forum’s ability to respond to crises in your region. Recent events in both Fiji and the Solomon Islands have shown us just how important it is to be able to agree on a response quickly among partner nations and how we need a range of practical measures we can adopt quickly. I welcome the fact that you are thinking of setting up a Ministerial Action Group and are looking at a range of other possible measures.

Post-Forum Dialogue Meeting Arrangements

You know, I think, that in previous years, British Ministers have arrived in the South Pacific for their Post-Forum Dialogue meetings to find that most members of the Forum have already left. We welcome the efforts you have made this year to ensure that Post-Forum Dialogue Partners get every opportunity to meet with the Heads of Delegation of Forum Member States. This has been very valuable and I have had a large number of very productive bilateral meetings. I am also grateful for the efforts of the Forum Secretariat in enabling me to gain access to the Forum meeting itself yesterday. This enabled me to learn much more about your concerns first hand while, at the same time, allowing opportunities for additional bilateral exchanges. But, can I make a suggestion? I would strongly urge you to make the current Post-Forum Dialogue into a Pre-Forum dialogue - holding it between the Forum opening ceremony and the Forum session itself. This would ensure that, in future years, my colleagues who travel a long way to attend this meeting would be sure of being able to make the most of their trip.

Conclusion

We have already seen many changes in the countries of the South Pacific since independence and, as we embark upon a new millennium we must accept that "changes" - characteristics of our global development – are inevitable for all of us. As Paul Valery said, "the future is not what it used to be!" But Britain and the countries of the South Pacific continue to be bound together by the ties of history and by core values that endure in the face of constant change.

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.7 (54 votes)

Add new comment