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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 9) - A meeting of Pacific island finance ministers starts today in Funafuti, the capitol of Tuvalu, where one of the topics of discussions will be the setting up of a regional private sector organization in Suva.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Ma'atia Toafa will officially open the event, which is seen as a boost for the tiny country’s visitor industry.

About 80 representatives from the 14 Pacific island countries, non-governmental organizations, observers and members of the media are on the island for the meeting.

Some government officials said this was a large number of people to be in Tuvalu at any one time.

The last time a similar number of people were on the island was in 1984, when the Pacific Islands Forum meeting was held there.

At that time, the airport runway was grass. But the runway, through funding from the Taiwan Government, is now concrete.

At a dinner function to welcome the participants on Monday night, Toafa apologized for the "inconvenience in your travel to Tuvalu, where small turbo-prop aircrafts provide the only means by air to enter our country. By now, you will understand the low tourist visitation Tuvalu records each year and hence the fact that your arrival has markedly raised tourist figures for this month," he said.

Toafa said that resource scarcity in many of forum countries makes it essential that development is sustainable and sensitive to the needs of the islanders.

"With small finances, we need to manage them with prudence and with greater accountability and transparency. Our people need to know how resources of the country are being used and be able to provide feedback to the government of the day," he said.

Toafa said Tuvalu is dependent on imports and Fiji was one of their major trading partners with about 20 percent of Tuvalu's imports coming from Fiji.

"We need to encourage more of this inter-regional trade, let alone Australia and New Zealand who are our major trading partners. For Fiji, trade has recently increased but unfortunately it's a one-way traffic. We would like to make it a two-way traffic but that is a Tuvalu problem," Toafa said.

The small island country, with a population of about 10,000, relies heavily on imported food and other products. It generates income from remittance from seafarers overseas, sale of stamps, trust funds and lease payment.

Shops in Funafuti sell tins of Golden Country corned beef, Rewa butter, Rewa Life milk, Punjas products, Sunshine beans and Fiji Water.

June 10, 2005

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