From L-R: Ms Cristelle Pratt, PIFS Deputy Secretary General; Professor Pal Ahluwalia, USP’s Vice-Chancellor & President; Hon Premila Kumar; Hon Jeremiah Manele and Hon Lautafi Fio Selati Purcell.
A High-Level panel organised by the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Tourism (MITT), The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) as a Side Event of the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting was held at the Laucala Campus on 11 February 2020.
Professor Pal Ahluwalia, USP’s Vice-Chancellor & President, moderated the panel, with the theme, Pacific Trading Nation: From Surviving to Thriving.
In her opening remarks Ms Cristelle Pratt, PIFS Deputy Secretary General commended the MITT for convening the dialogue to have constructive exchanges on the role of regional cooperation “and transforming our island economies into thriving and competitive economies which is at the heart of the theme of this year’s Forum Trade Ministers Meeting”.
“Our collective power and solidarity on trade and development matters are important to accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic development,” she commented.
In his welcome remarks, Professor Ahluwalia acknowledged the contributions and support of USP’s member countries, development partners and engagement from its regional and international partners, which enables the University to deliver its higher education, research and CROP regional integration mandate.
“It is with your enabling support that we are able to deliver knowledge and build capacities of our Pacific people,” he said.
Hon Premila Kumar, Fiji’s Minister for Industry, Trade & Tourism (MITT) stresses a point during the High-Level Ministerial panel.
Panelists Hon Premila Kumar, Fiji’s Minister for Industry, Trade & Tourism (MITT); Hon Lautafi Fio Selati Purcell, Samoa’s Minister for Commerce, Industry, Trade & Labour; and Hon Jeremiah Manele, Solomon Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade discussed economic issues and challenges that will shape our regional trade and ensure that not only do we survive but thrive.
During the discussions, Hon Premila Kumar, Fiji’s Minister for Industry, Trade & Tourism stated that the region’s economy continues to survive and overcome increasing challenges like climate change, economic slowdown and recently the changing global trading rules.
“Unilateral decisions are being made and there has been a shift from multilateral to protectionism. Today, the World Trade Organisation and its effectiveness is being questioned. For our region, we understand that international trade is very important for our economic growth. We need foreign direct investment (FDI) but how can we entice more FDIs to come into the Pacific if we do not adhere to the global trading rules?”
Hon Kumar strongly suggested that for the region to trade with the rest of the world, there is a need for trade facilitation measures and we should not only look at traditional trade agreements but focus on trade agreements that are more development focused.
Hon Purcell, Samoa’s Minister for Commerce, Industry, Trade & Labour said the global trading atmosphere is at crisis point right now.
“Where does the region fit into this argument between multilateralism and protectionism? The WTO which is supposed to be regulating trade and ensure that we all have our chances to trade freely is right now under siege. Where does that leave us as a small region in the world?” he said.
He added that there is a need to look at how multilateralism will work against protectionism given the working relationship with the WTO.
“We must be careful because how we enter into trade agreements will determine how we will trade in the next 20 to 50 years,” he said.
“We have to get it right otherwise we will be lagging behind but we cannot lose our identity as Pacific people because the Pacific region is here to stay and we will not bow down to any external pressure,” he added.
Hon Manele, Solomon Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade said it is important to remember the context of our island countries in terms of the theme from surviving to sustainably thriving.
“As we all know we are large ocean states and we are remote, distant from markets and the cost of communication, electricity and power is higher for a number of our countries and also, we are all at slightly different stages and levels of development, hence the need to work together,” he said.
“The issue of capacity has been a challenge for us hence the importance of regionalism and regional cooperation. In terms of trade, there are a number of trading arrangements that exist and are important in terms of encouraging economic development and economic integration for our counties,” Hon Manele said.
He added it is crucial for the region to share goals and values but it also demands unwavering commitment from everyone to implement these goals and values “which is in line with the Pacific Blue principles that call for the collective empowerment of Pacific states to work together”.
Professor Ahluwalia thanked the Honourable Ministers on the panel for their frank comments, PIFS Deputy SG and staff, and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism staff for organising the event at USP. He also thanked the audience without whom the event would not have been possible.
Fiji is currently hosting the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting and Forum Trade Ministers Meetings (FTMM), in Suva from11-13 February 2020.
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