REMARKS: Secretary General Baron Waqa’s Keynote Remarks at the Pacific Banking Forum

Remarks and Speeches
09 July 2024

Secretary General Baron Waqa’s Keynote Remarks at the Pacific Banking Forum

Tuesday 9th July 2024 -  Brisbane, Australia

•    Hon Jim Chalmers, Australian Treasurer,
•    Mr Brian Nelson, Under Secretary for Terrorism & Financial Intelligence, US Dept of Treasury, 
•    Hon Mark Brown, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for Cook Islands & PIF Chair
•    Hon David Adeang, President of the Republic of Nauru,
•    Hon Ministers of finance and senior officials representing Pacific governments,
•    Central bank governors and banking commissioners, 
•    Senior representatives of Australian and United States regulators,
•    Senior representatives of Australian, United States and Pacific banks,
•    Senior representatives of our key multilateral development partners
•    Representatives of the private sector, civil society organisations, and members of the media
•    Distinguished participants
•    Ladies and gentlemen.

1.    Ekamawir omo, bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

2.    Firstly, let me thank the organisers of the Pacific Banking Forum for the invitation to attend this important meeting. It is a privilege and honour to deliver these remarks this morning.

3.    Allow me also to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are gathering on today: the Turrbal and Yuggera people.

4.    Since yesterday, we have been dealing with the issue of declining correspondent banking relationship (CBR) in our Blue Pacific region, an issue that has affected our Pacific Islands Forum members and people over the last decade.

5.    During this time, our members have been undertaking reforms to meet their AML/CFT requirements from the global standard setting bodies.  Our members are still committed to meeting their requirements.

6.    As the World Bank diagnostic study on CBRs in April 2023 has highlighted, the number of CBRs in the Pacific has declined significantly since 2011.  This decline was uneven across the region and more acute for US Dollar and EURO accounts.

7.    With an ever-increasing number of workers under the various labour mobility schemes, remittance flows to families are also increasing. This makes a resolution to the CBR issue a high priority not only for our governments and the private sector, but also for our people and families who depend on receiving remittances for their development and wellbeing.

8.    In August 2023, Forum Economic Ministers tasked the Secretariat to work with the World Bank to develop a roadmap and progress the implementation of regional recommendations. This was to be undertaken with the support of relevant development partners in consultation with Forum Members through the Pacific Economic Sub-Committee and ahead of the next FEMM.

9.    A CBR Roadmap was developed as a multi-year plan to address de-risking in the Pacific. This includes the collection of CBR data, reporting of action on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), information-sharing frameworks and CBR resilience index, remittance corridor risk assessments, and the need for sustained and coordinated effort by Forum Island countries and development partners.

10.    As noted yesterday, several milestones in the Roadmap have been achieved since February. These include the convening of the CBR High Level Event in Sydney in March this year, the signing of an MOU with the US Treasury, the establishment of the Pacific De-risking Group, and the extension of the CBR diagnostic study to include the Federated State of Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands, and Palau.

11.    The Secretariat has been working with the World Bank to develop the Pacific Strengthening CBR project that will ensure continuous access to CBR services in the Pacific. At this juncture, I want to express my sincere appreciation to the World Bank and to Vice President Ms Manuela Ferro for the enormous support given to the Pacific Islands Forum on this matter.

12.    At the same time, I would also like to acknowledge the strong support from other key partners like Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund,

13.    While progress made to date is both encouraging and reassuring, much work remains. Achieving the other milestones in the Roadmap requires our collective effort. One organisation cannot do this alone. We must all work together to build on our successes to date.

14.    For example, collecting CBR data and the development of a CBR resilience index are areas that our members require essential technical support and capacity building to be able to undertake the other milestones successfully.

15.    This Forum provides a unique platform to discuss these areas as a collective. I know there is support and goodwill in this room to find innovative solutions to the problem.  The Forum Secretariat is happy to coordinate and work with our partners on this important development issue for our Blue Pacific region.

16.    In addition, I take this opportunity to emphasise the spirit of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent endorsed by our Forum Leaders – we must not leave anyone behind in all that we do.  

17.    I am hopeful that we will come up with practical outcomes that could be presented for the consideration and further direction of our Forum Economic Ministers Meeting when they meet in August.

18.    Honourable Ministers, Senior Officials, ladies and gentlemen, let us work together, coordinate our efforts and share information on this long-standing matter. I look forward to our continued discussions as well as reinforcing our efforts to finding effective outcomes to address the closure of CBRs in our Blue Pacific Continent.  

19.    Tubwa kor, vinaka vakalevu and thank you

20.    ENDS


Photo Credit: © Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade