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Forum Secretariat Headquarters, Suva Monday, April 2, 2001, at 9:00 am

Senior Foreign Affairs Officers from member countries, Resource persons to the 2001 FIC Foreign Service Workshop,

Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 2001 Foreign Service Workshop for senior officials of the Forum Island Countries (FTC&). In doing so, I hope you will have a fruitful week with us and an enjoyable stay here in Suva.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Commonwealth Secretariat for its continued support and collaboration with the Forum Secretariat in the implementation of this program. In this regard I want to acknowledge the presence of Mr. Mohammed Jasimuddin from the Commonwealth Secretariat who is attending the workshop as a resource person.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of our two other resource persons, Ambassador Rodney Denham, a retired New Zealand Diplomat who has had a distinguished service in his country’s Diplomatic Service, and Mr. Halim Saad, Head of Strategic and International Security Studies at the Malaysian Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations. I am sure you will all learn a lot from them, and each other, during the course of this week.

This course commenced in 1999 when the Forum Secretariat in close collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the University of the South Pacific began a "Foreign Service Diplomatic Training" program. This was intended to help build capacity in FIC Foreign Ministries and assist members to represent their countries’ interests more effectively at regional and international fora.

A new aspect built into the program for 2001 is work on conflict resolution. As a result of a number of crises that have occurred in the region, a landmark decision was made by Forum Leaders at their meeting in Kiribati last year to adopt the Biketawa Declaration. The Declaration for the first time committed Forum members to a number of guiding principles and courses of action to assist in the resolution of a crisis. I understand a full and detailed explanation of the Biketawa Declaration will be given by the Deputy Secretary General during the course of the workshop.

This type of workshop is important for the Forum Island Countries, as most of them do not have this kind of training available nationally. Most of the Foreign Ministries in the Forum island countries have had to rely on training courses provided by Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United Kingdom, or Germany. It is therefore important that we begin to develop a program that is tailor made to the region’s requirements. This program is a modest start, and the Forum Secretariat is proud to be associated with the initiative.

As diplomats, you will be at the forefront of efforts by your countries, and the region as a whole, to deal with difficult issues that may impact on the overall security and welfare of our region and people. This will increasingly demand a proactive approach, as well as the multiple skills that this program seeks to develop. I urge you to make full use of the wealth of expertise offered by the resource persons, as well as the considerable experience of your fellow participants.

The constraints on small states are well documented and the international community appreciates that we are amongst the most vulnerable in the international community. The 1999 UN Special Session on Small Island Developing States highlighted our exposure and over the last three years have articulated a regional position on the vulnerability of Forum Island Countries. We must explore all opportunities to have our concerns heard through national, regional and international representation. That requires us to articulate and advocate our concerns more effectively, and not just rely on others to do it for us. Workshops like this are designed to assist us sharpen our diplomatic and representational skills.

The global context for diplomacy is very different from what it was in the past. There are more challenges to face, with globalization and trade liberalization becoming the overriding influence in all of our lives. As globalization intensifies, there will be far greater exposure and competition than we have seen before, which will require all the skills in diplomacy we can muster. There are many more issues, actors and players in the international arena including a growing multitude of non-governmental organizations. Globalization has also brought with it greater interdependence and, through advances in communication technologies, the means for immediate contact and impact.

Consequently, diplomats now need to be familiar with a widening range of special issues whether it is civil aviation agreements, trade and investment issues, the complexities of environmental negotiations, the international regulation of telecommunications, Law of the Sea or problems of maritime rights.

Globalization has also brought new pressures both in economic and political terms in a world that is "uneven" and intensely competitive. While we are doing our best to adjust, we need to continually sensitize the international community to the need for "special and differential treatment," in aid and trade arrangements, because of our unique circumstances.

Diplomacy remains vital to the representation of the interests of each state and to the vitality and stability of the international community. The goals and interests of the multiple players in the international stage do not always parallel our own as we have seen in climate change negotiations. Diplomacy therefore remains a powerful mediating tool in such circumstances.

The challenge for you as Senior Officials is to seek an equal or greater say in a global environment that does not always represent an even playing field. The region has long recognized the value of working collectively with a united voice. This is the foundation that the Forum was built on and is our key strength.

I hope that your week in Suva will be valuable and rewarding. I am confident you will leave with a greater appreciation of the importance and complexities of regional and multilateral dealings, and take back with you additional skills to carry out your work.

May I on your behalf take this opportunity to thank once again the Commonwealth Secretariat for their support, as well as the Governments of Malaysia and New Zealand for providing assistance through the services of our resources persons for the workshop. I look forward to further cooperation and collaboration between the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Malaysian Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations in future courses and workshops of this nature.

I now have great pleasure in officially opening the 2001 Forum Island Countries Diplomatic Workshop. Thank you and "Vinaka Vakalevu."

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