Indications of a new era for the Pacific region’s transport sector, featuring improved national governance, affordability and low-carbon solutions, are among the outcomes of a major regional transport meeting held in Suva, Fiji.
The event, convened by the Pacific Community (SPC), attracted representatives of 18 Pacific Island countries and territories, development agencies and the private sector to examine issues influencing access to safe, secure and efficient transport systems.
“Maritime transport in particular provides a lifeline, connecting Pacific people, and there’s a shared interest and commitment to have safest and most efficient and affordable services in place, including for remote island communities,” SPC Chief of Staff, Patricia Sachs-Cornish said.
“Transport by road, air or water, is a vital enabler for other sectors, such as agriculture, health, education and trade, and will therefore play an important part in the region’s future development agenda and the pursuit of many of the Sustainable Development Goals,” Ms Sachs-Cornish said.
It was agreed to set up national coordinating committees for shipping, comprising public and private sector representatives, to explore technical solutions to improve the safety, affordability and frequency of transport services.
The Asian Development Bank led a discussion about the transport sector as an important source of foreign earnings, including ways transport services facilitate trade and how better port efficiency can support trade.
For example, around 20% of Tuvalu’s gross domestic product is derived from seafarers’ remittances.
“Given the disbursed nature of small island nations and competing development challenges, the promotion of affordable, safe and reliable transport services is vital for Tuvalu’s small economy,” the Acting Transport Secretary for Tuvalu’s Ministry of Transport, Communication and Public Utilities, Taukave Poolovalu, said.
The participants also considered practical step-by-step guides for those Pacific countries due to be audited by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), beginning with Papua New Guinea in September 2016, and followed by Kiribati in early 2017.
“Pacific Island countries have similar challenges, in terms of a lack of natural resources, limited capacity and gaps in existing transport-related legislation. It’s essential that countries share experiences and lessons learned rather than reinventing the wheel,” the Chief Executive Officer of Papua New Guinea’s National Maritime Safety, Paul Unas, said.
Increasing energy efficiency of the transport sector and reducing harmful emissions in the transport sector, through a variety of means, such as fuel substitution with biofuel, emerged as a key issue.
As in many parts of the world, the transport sector in the Pacific is male-dominated.
During an agenda item on the role of women, the officials recognised the economic contribution of women in the maritime sector and agreed to strengthen policies and frameworks to enhance gender responsiveness at the national level, to attract and retain more women to the sector.
Other participants included the IMO, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and maritime industry representatives.
The meeting concluded on Friday 27 November 2015, and its outcomes will provide substantial input into the agenda of the Pacific Regional Transport Ministers’ meeting scheduled for 2017.