VANUATU HOSTS GRIM MELANESIAN GROUP GATHERING

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By Lora Lini

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, March 15) - Since its historical establishment in the late 1980s by the "founding fathers of Melanesia – Sir Michael Somare, Solomon Mamaloni, and Father Walter Lini – the Melanesian Spearhead Group has come a long way in terms of trade and advocating peace in the region.

But this week’s emergency meeting is possibly the first of its kind, called on the eve of negotiations towards the construction of a permanent Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat in Vanuatu.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR news files, a decision to situate the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat in Vanuatu was decided at the end of the 14th Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit in 2001 (read the story). The Melanesian Spearhead Group comprises the four Melanesian states of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji. The Group signed the region’s Preferential Trade Agreement in 1994 - a sub-regional trade treaty established to foster and accelerate economic development through trade relations.]

Papua New Guinea arrived yesterday in Port Vila with outspoken Minister of Trade Paul Tiensten leading the officials’ delegation. PNG Foreign Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu who is also Chairperson of Melanesian Spearhead Group will be arriving on Tuesday with his Fiji counterpart.

Among the ups and downs within the region of Melanesia, Vanuatu will be the "nasara" (venue) in which the five Melanesian countries will come face to face with each other to try and resolve a number of burning issues threatening regional trade and security.

Papua New Guinea has made it clear by their early arrival they are not here to play games.

Fiji is reportedly going to send their highest officials to attend the meeting.

The Vanuatu Government has been accused of paying lip service to the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement and the Melanesian Spearhead Group agreement with the imposition of export licenses for kava and other commodities.

The current government’s move to close off the open markets for commodities and the sale of kava is in contrast to Article 8 of the Melanesian Spearhead Group agreement, which states that countries "shall not impose new prohibitions or restrictions, or intensify existing prohibitions or restrictions on exports on other parties."

It was reported recently that Fiji has had its problems with Vanuatu on kava exports and has only recently resolved a long-running dispute over the import of Fiji’s cracker biscuits. But the main issues of trade to be discussed by the countries are the on going differences between Papua New Guinea and Fiji over the export of corned beef to Fiji.

The meeting will be held at the Le Lagon Park Royal beginning on Tuesday.

March 15, 2006

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