Heads of CROP, 48th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Meeting in Apia, Samoa

Apia, Samoa felt like the very centre of the Pacific this week as it played host to the 48th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Meeting, and the Smaller Islands States (SIS) meeting. For the first time, French Polynesia and New Caledonia participated as full members of the Forum, making our community of Pacific leaders feel more complete.

Under this year’s PIF theme: ‘Blue Pacific – Our Sea of Islands’, Pacific leaders adopted a new narrative on the importance of the Pacific Ocean as a critical determinant of the social, economic and cultural dimensions of life for Pacific peoples and as a cornerstone for mitigating the threat of climate change.

I was pleased, therefore, to able to introduce the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP) and the Pacific Resilience Partnership (PRP) as the basis for coordinated regional action on climate change and disaster risk reduction in the Pacific. The Pacific Community (SPC) will focus primarily on disaster risk reduction, but with our organisation’s extensive scientific expertise, SPC will also make major contributions to other areas in the Framework.

Leaders also affirmed their commitment to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR), designed to foster greater coherence in the development and political aspirations of Pacific Islands. Here, SPC will play a critical role in the delivery of FPR activities in association with Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) agencies. Preparations for COP 23 also occupied a significant share of the discussions during the week.

The heads of CROP agencies played an active role throughout the week, providing comprehensive briefings to the Pacific Leaders on topics, such as increased returns from fisheries, coastal fisheries strategy implementation, deep sea mining, cyber security, tourism and renewal energy. The full range of issues discussed and decisions taken are outlined in the Meeting communique.

The presence of so many high-level representatives, partners, donors and officials often provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen our working relationships, and the Forum proved to be no exception.

During the week, I was pleased to sign an important MOU with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat on developing a joint approach to improving health in Commonwealth member states. I was part of the launch of a World Bank Pacific Possible report, where major opportunities and risks for continued economic growth in the Pacific were highlighted. I also took the opportunity to engage with senior European Union (EU) officials about strengthening the relationship between the EU and SPC.

Finally, I was honoured to witness the signing of an agreement between the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the EU on preventing violence against women, as part of the European Development Fund (EDF1 agreement. This is the first project agreed as part of the Regional Indicative Programme for the Pacific as part of EDF11. SPC and UN Women are the key providers of this significant programme. In that same vein, I was happy to have SPC participate in an important side event, the Pacific-EU Gender Conference, where all partners recognised the need to promote gender equality and gender equity, together with eradicating violence against women and girls, as both a human right and a driver of economic and sustainable development.

In addition to the programme for the Leaders Forum, many important side events took place. Prior to the start of the Forum, the Smaller Islands States (SIS) met to review the SIS strategy adopted in 2016. The Pacific Community is involved in the provision of many of the key result areas such as NCDs and climate change mitigation, and I was impressed with the progress that has been achieved in such a short period. SPC was also present as an observer at the Polynesian Leaders Group, which provided an opportunity to better gauge the needs expressed by leaders from the Pacific Community’s Polynesian member states and territories, including American Samoa, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. Additionally, an SPC delegation participated in the civil society and private sector dialogues, together with the post-Forum dialogue, enhancing our outreach to, and understanding of, these important actors on the national, regional and international stages.

I came away from Apia impressed with the commitment and dedication to sharing knowledge and experience that Pacific Leaders continue to demonstrate. With strong support from the CROP agencies, and solid partnerships with like-minded organisations across the globe, our region looks set to make significant progress towards our development targets before the 49th Pacific Leaders Forum takes place in Nauru in 2018.