The three-day Pacific Update conference held at The University of the South Pacific (USP) Japan’s ICT Centre in Suva has been hailed a success by those in attendance, said Dr Neelesh Gounder, USP’s Senior Lecturer in Economics.
Dr Gounder said the conference, organised by The Australian National University’s Development Policy Centre (ANU) and USP’s School of Accounting, Finance and Economics (SAFE), drew diverse participants, policymakers, academics, and development practitioners to present and discuss critical economic, social, and regional development issues in the Pacific,
He added that serious, relevant, in-depth presentations and discussions were highly rated, particularly around key thematic areas or issues that topped the deliberations over the past three days.
“Pacific Update is now regarded as the region’s premier conference focusing on social, economic, political, and environmental issues. It is essential to bring together expertise from different sectors and countries to discuss important regional issues,” Dr Gounder stressed.
He added, “USP is the premier tertiary institution in the region, and I think we are well placed to host a conference that looks at issues of importance to the region. We are organising this conference in partnership with ANU, and this partnership is significant as it provides the network to connect with Australian Universities and bring together the expertise and provide a platform to discuss key issues in the Pacific.”
Dr Gounder stated that topics around gender equality and economic resilience are two critical issues for the region that were factored well into some of the presentations and discussions.
Meanwhile, Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad, while delivering his opening remarks, said that for far too long, Pacific Island countries have been on the receiving end of having things decided for them and have suffered from having programmes conceived in distant capitals, and that period has ended now.
Professor Prasad stated that a strengthened Pacific Solidarity means that the Pacific’s regional institutions, such as USP as the region’s premier learning institution, train and educate graduates to respond better to our various challenges.
“The Pacific needs a breakthrough moment. We must break through the constraints that are tired and archaic global financial architecture imposed on our countries. We need a breakthrough moment to sidestep the harsh fallout from geo-economics about the interests of the largest states and economies. Blue Pacific’s North Star, the Blue Pacific’s 2050 Strategy, is foundational. It gives purpose, direction and framework for how the Blue Pacific engages with the global system,” the Minister said.
He added, “Fiji’s Coalition Government places its greatest priority on rebooting Pacific regionalism with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency. It is not coincidental that our Prime Minister, Honourable Sitiveni Rabuka, has wasted no time visiting Kiribati, PNG and Samoa. Stability, inclusive prosperity and enhanced security across the Blue Pacific is the absolute priority of our government; it must also be prioritised by governments and communities across the region.”
Professor Prasad views the Pacific Update conference as an essential event to contribute to our well-being by investigating problems and sharing information to identify solutions.
“In addressing the Pacific’s world-class researchers and scholars, my ask is simple. I hope your research will illuminate the supercharged geo-economic competition for critical minerals and how control and access to new technologies cause disruptions regarding pressures and strains on our economies and regional institutions,” he stated.
Australian High Commission’s Chargé d’affaires, Mr Stuart Watts, stated that Australia is proud to support the 2023 Pacific Update through its Pacific Research Programme and is committed to working with the Pacific towards the visions outlined in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
“The Pacific Update and the Pacific Research Programme reflect the strong connections between Australian and Pacific Universities and our people. The Pacific is family, or we share here in Fiji, Vuvale. We share a region, an ocean, and a future,” he said.
He highlighted the plight of Pacific Island countries having experienced significant environmental, social, political and economic shifts.
Mr Watts stressed the importance of Pacific policymakers accessing quality independent research in areas of strategic policy importance.
“Development challenges have been heightened by climate change and the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research plays a crucial role in understanding the effects of these global changes, how they play out at the local level and where the opportunities to promote stability, security and prosperity lie within this dynamic context,” the Chargé d’affaires echoed.
The three-day conference attended by over 50 scholars, researchers, students and representatives from the private and public sectors marked the 11th year for USP to host this crucial regional talanoa platform that concludes today.