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Keynote Address by Prime Minister of Samoa Honourable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi


Apia, Samoa June 27, 2001

Reverend President Solovi Lueli Teo, The Honourable Deputy Prime Ministers of Vanuatu and Tuvalu; Honourable Ministers, Hon. Senator Kay Patterson; Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat Mr Noel Levi CBE; Your Excellencies; High Commissioners and Ambassadors Representatives of Regional Organizations; Distinguished Delegates; Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with great pleasure that I extend to all of you a very warm welcome to Samoa on the occasion of this Second Meeting of Forum Trade Ministers.

The timing of your meeting coincides with the first session of our Parliament that also debated our Government’s Budget for the new financial year starting next month in July.

Budget debates, as you know from experience in your own countries, are always highly charged events, which invariably generate controversy. And so they should, given the impact of government’s expenditure decisions, expressed through the budget, on the social and economic life of our countries. Your meeting in Samoa is tasked with making recommendations that could change in a fundamental way the arrangements that govern trade between the Pacific Forum Island Countries. And because trade is a key element in the economic development of our nations, trade issues also tend to create controversy and difficulties as the negotiations to date of the Free Trade Area has already shown up.

Nevertheless, as has been demonstrated, globalisation is an unforgiving taskmaster and our small countries have few choices but to rethink our respective economic management policies and where possible, as in the case of trade, our regional strategies as well.

The Forum Leaders have indeed given the go ahead as they mandated in 1999, for negotiations of operational arrangements that would enable the implementation of a Free Trade Agreement amongst Forum Island Countries.

Quite obviously, your own meeting of Ministers of Trade when you first met two years ago recognised the special problems that our Pacific nations face. The lists of the disadvantages, which our countries contend with are many including geographic isolation, small fragile economies, limited human resource capacity and perennial vulnerability to natural disasters ranging from cyclones, earthquakes, and tsunamis to agricultural disasters like the blight that wiped out the taro industry in Samoa seven years ago.

As was also clearly evident, your 1999 meeting also recognised quickly that as much as we wished that it were otherwise, the Pacific just cannot be insulated from the rapid global developments occurring worldwide. Your subsequent and most insightful recommendation for a free trade Agreement among Forum Island Countries had therefore received the rapid and unequivocal support of the Forum Leaders.

I am aware that your original time frame to have a substantive legal text on a Free Trade Agreement ready last year 2000 could not be achieved. But as I mentioned before, when we are forced to make choices on issues with major impact on the lives and welfare of our people, it is often wise to follow the adage of "making haste slowly."

As you would also know the negotiations of other high profile international conventions and agreements have run into numerous stumbling blocks. Cases in point are the Climate Change Convention and even the WTO process itself, the rules of which our proposed Free Trade Agreement is attempting to satisfy.

While there is no need in my mind for criticism of the delays that prompted the postponement of your original timetable, it would still be crucial that we move forward on the Free Trade Agreement negotiations as quickly as possible. I am informed that good progress was made at the officials meeting in the last few days. If this is indeed the case then the portents are good for your Ministerial meeting to achieve positive and substantive outcomes.

Obviously, some of the issues and considerations on the Free Trade Agreement that you must take into account bear on the sovereignty of States and are therefore by nature sensitive and come with a "handle" with due "care" label. Given that your recommendations will also go to the Forum Leaders, I would not presume to press on you, from the podium, the views of Samoa.

However, I know that there already exists an alignment of views, as our Pacific countries normally do, on most of the issues. Let me therefore simply say that while my own country considers it a step in the right direction to establish the Free Trade Agreement and in accordance with WTO rules, the challenge would be to make it beneficial to all our countries. That unfortunately is the hard task, which I am sure I speak on behalf of the other Forum Leaders, we happily leave to you.

In closing my remarks, I hope that you will be able to have the time to see a little of Samoa and enjoy our hospitality. I wish you a successful meeting.


For additional information, contact: Ulafala Aiavao at 

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