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Opening Address by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Mailelegaoi of Samoa to open the 48th Pacific Islands Forum 2017

Address by
The Hon. Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi
Prime Minister of the Independent State of Samoa
& Chair of the
48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Vailima, Samoa
5 September, 2017

Reverend Utufua Naseri
Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum
Members of Cabinet
Chief Justice & Members of the Judiciary
Speaker and Members of Parliament
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
Heads of CROP, Regional and International Agencies
Forum Dialogue Partners and all Development Partners
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my privilege to welcome you all, descendants of the continent moana, our sea of islands joined to the umbilical cord of our cultures, heritage, resources and identification as people of the Ocean.  Welcome to the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting that Samoa is pleased to host once more; and we extend a very warm welcome to all delegates of the Pacific Islands Forum and all our Development partners inclusive of our civil society and private sector - especially those that have made this island discovery for the very first time.

The Pacific Islands Forum remains the peak regional political community in the Pacific. Its existence in perpetuity, even in the face of numerous challenges, is testament to our solidarity and commitment to each other and for our collective good. Samoa has long understood regionalism in this way - not only in terms of the benefits that accrue to us nationally, but also in terms of our obligations to the region as part of our membership to this Forum.  Meeting such obligations is acknowledgement that we are recapturing the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean, based on a shared geography, ocean identity, and resources.

On behalf of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders', let me acknowledge and extend my appreciation to the outgoing Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, His Excellency President Peter Christian of the Federated States of Micronesia.  President, your stewardship over the past year has seen the achievement of many great things for the region.  I commit to continuing the legacy that you, and past Forum chairs have forged for our region and peoples.

Let me also acknowledge the presence of my fellow Leaders and their delegations. This meeting provides a vital opportunity to consolidate our commitment to refine the prioritisation process necessary to help us realise the Forum vision for our region. I am aware, as the Incoming Chair, of my responsibility to drive the implementation of our priorities, and I will work closely with you to do this.

I acknowledge Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor for her guidance of the Secretariat over the past few years and for the willingness to undertake significant internal reforms to ensure that it is strategically placed to support Forum Members and strengthened to ensure sustainability.

I also acknowledge with appreciation the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that provides the impetus for all the Heads of our CROP and regional agencies, Forum dialogue partners, and donor partners, and esteemed representatives from the private sector and civil society to actively participate and ensure there is inclusive and meaningful engagement with the Leaders. 

Distinguished guests, the theme of the 48th Pacific Islands Forum is The Blue Pacific: Our Sea of Islands - Our Security through Sustainable Development, Management and Conservation, which speaks to the very heart of Pacific Regionalism. 

For the Pacific region and its island countries, the ocean is crucial.  Exercising a sense of common identity and purpose linked to the ocean, has been critical for protecting and promoting the potential of our shared Pacific Ocean. It is this commonality of the fundamental essence of the region which has the potential to empower the region through collective and combined agendas and actions.  The Blue Pacific will strengthen the existing policy frameworks that harness the ocean as a driver of a transformative socio-cultural, political and economic development of the Pacific. Furthermore it gives renewed impetus to deepening Pacific regionalism.

The Framework for Pacific Regionalism, endorsed by Leaders in 2014, states, "Pacific peoples are the custodians of the world's largest, most peaceful and abundant ocean, its many islands and its rich diversity of cultures". This resonates well with the Blue Pacific concept of recapturing the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean.  Putting The Blue Pacific at the centre of regional policy making strengthens collective action to advance its implementation as has been reflected in the following regional initiatives. 

  • The Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy endorsed in 2002 promotes "sustainable development, management and conservation of marine and coastal resources in the Pacific region" based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. 
  • The Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape endorsed in 2010 catalysed regional action and initiatives covering an area of approximately 40 million square kilometres of ocean and island ecosystems. 
  • Forums Leaders have collectively promoted peace and security within our shared ocean space. Most notable in this regard, is the establishment of the Rarotonga Treaty in 1985 in which Leaders emphasized ownership of the bounty and beauty of the land and sea in the Pacific region, and in so doing, asserted their shared ocean geography to establish a nuclear free zone across the South Pacific. 
  • While Oceans diplomacy has also been a key feature of the Forum's engagement internationally, wherein Forum members' leadership and advocacy for a Sustainable Development Goal on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and their marine resources - SDG14 is now an integral part of the 2030 Agenda. 
  • The preparatory committee process relating to Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) and advocacy to consider the strong links between the Ocean and Climate under the UNFCCC - could be seen as the hallmarks of a renewed, invigorated interest and commitment by Forum member states to recover their traditional stewardship of the Blue Pacific. 
  • Fisheries continue to be an integral part of the region's ocean policies. In 2007 Leaders' endorsed the "Vava'u Declaration on Pacific Fisheries Resources: Our Fish, Our Future". In 2015, and again in 2016, Leaders, under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism called for regional, priority action, to increase economic returns from the region's shared fisheries resources, endorsed the Fisheries Roadmap, as well as emphasized coastal fisheries for the sustainable management of such resources that are critical for the wellbeing, livelihoods, and resilience of Pacific Peoples. 
  • The Palau Declaration on the Ocean: Life and Future accords the Pacific Ocean as the lifeblood of our economies and societies and is crucial to global climatic and environmental stability.
  • Also in 2015, we were instrumental in concluding one of the toughest ever global negotiations on the Paris Agreement. Collectively, we as Pacific Leaders successfully persuaded the world to see climate change through the lens, of small island communities most vulnerable to climate change impact. 

Distinguished delegates, let me pause here to pay tribute to a true Pacific leader and giant of the Pacific in Climate Change Activism - the late Honourable Tony de Brum. May we continue to retrace his footprints to claim the climate and nuclear justice we deserve. President Heine, please accept our collective thoughts and prayers on behalf of your people and government at this time.

  • To return to the theme of this year's Forum - international law and instruments confer rights on Pacific Island communities relating to the use of the ocean and its resources.  With these rights come responsibilities, especially for sustainable development, management and conservation of the ocean's living resources and for the protection of the ocean environment and its biodiversity.

The Blue Pacific however is also more than this. By the sheer fact of our geography, such as trends associated with shifts in the centres of global power, this places the Pacific at the centre of contemporary global geopolitics. Embracing this as a unique opportunity in the history of the region, The Blue Pacific provides a new narrative for Pacific Regionalism and how the Forum engages with the world.

This new narrative calls for inspired leadership by the Forum and a long-term commitment to the benefits of acting together as one Blue Continent, has the potential to define a Blue Pacific economy, ensures a sustainable, secure, resilient and peaceful Blue Pacific as well as strengthens Blue Pacific Diplomacy to protect the value of our Ocean and peoples.

Ahead of us there will be opportunities to bring this new narrative to life. While we may become and unwilling actor in the current tensions around the Pacific rim, by virtue of our geography it may be pertinent to ask how our region can assert or geography as the basis for promoting regional and global peace, as was done with the Rarotonga Treaty.

I congratulate the Smaller Island States PACP Leaders and the Polynesian Leaders for the successful conclusion of their meetings in the last few days. We now look forward to the civil society and private sector dialogues, as well as our engagements with Associate Member and Forum Dialogue Partners. We are trialling this year a Panel dialogue structure to see how we can effectively engage as partners.

Leaders will also meet with the Heads of CROP agencies. There will also be opportunities to participate in carefully selected side events for relevance and application to the theme of this year's Meeting. I fully anticipate that these various meetings will serve to provide context on issues that Leaders are to discuss in their Retreat later this week.

Fellow leaders, other related issues that will be under our purview include:

  • Issues related to the governance and financing of regionalism in support of Forum Leaders decisions;
  • The Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development - which streamlines our collective approaches towards the implementation and monitoring of our sustainable aspirations as reflected in the SDGs, the SAMOA Pathway, and our Framework for Pacific Regionalism; and
  • Progress made against regional priorities in fisheries, climate change, and on PACER Plus.

We will also reflect on the lessons of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, and consider how we might strengthen the Biketawa Declaration by expanding our definition of security so that it responds to emerging security issues in our unique Pacific context. Climate change and particularly disasters may be viewed from a security perspective, given their increasing frequency and impact. 

We will also discuss the financing of the Secretariat to ensure that it is able to deliver on our Forum Members' expectations. 

Fellow Leaders, these are all important issues that require your attention and engagement over the next few days, and I will provide to the extent possibly my own contribution to the discussions from the Chair. 

The Year ahead, provides numerous regional and international engagements where we will be required to advocate our collective positions on our agreed priorities and articulate such through a collective voice; such as the UN General Assembly, and the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the UNFCCC. We acknowledge the Co Presidency of Fiji and the proactive engagement of Forum leaders towards a successful UN Oceans Conference and we all look forward to supporting Fiji's Presidency of COP23.

We must actively drive the implementation of Forum priorities across our regional system through Ministerial and Officials meetings, and through CROP governance and management processes, to ensure that Leaders' decisions are implemented with full effect. If we are to deliver on the regional agenda to be set here by Forum Leaders, our collective action and cooperation is essential. Such coordinated action speaks fully to the aims and objectives of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism which calls for all of us to do our part - in coordination. As Chair I will provide guidance and leadership to support the Forum in these endeavours.

Distinguished delegates, let me conclude by again recalling and reflecting on the theme of this year's Pacific Islands Forum Meeting. We have a unique opportunity to use this lens to strengthen our solidarity to realise the objectives of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. 

Let us make the most of the opportunity that has brought in an unexpected number of delegates and representatives. Let us look to consider removing some of the rigidities that preclude an open Pacific dialogue with shared agendas and actions. Let us strive to maintain focus on our priorities and not allow issues extraneous to our Blue Pacific to take dominance. 

Let us recapture the essence of Our Blue Pacific. 
Finally, I invite you all to join in the Teuila festivities and have a glimpse of the Samoan Blue Pacific identity.  It is my honour to now declare this 48th meeting of Pacific Forum Leaders open.

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