In the Pacific we take a more expansive view of regional integration that extends beyond simple economic or market integration. The catalyst to our unique approach, being the Forum Leaders endorsement in 2017 of the Blue Pacific narrative as the core driver of collective regional action Grounded in the strength of our collective will, the Blue Pacific narrative emphasizes action as one ocean continent based on our shared ocean identity, geography and resources.
The Blue Pacific narrative underlies our ownership of our ocean space – Pacific people taking control of our domain, which is critical to managing our ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and data, as well as for fighting the impacts of climate change. It represents our recognition that as a region, we are large, connected and strategically important and speaks to our collective potential and our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean.
I am honoured to be speaking on behalf of the Forum Troika – our Forum Chair Nauru President Baron Divavesi Waqa, the incoming Forum Chair Prime Minister Enele Sopaga and myself – having just stepped down as Forum Chair in Nauru a few months ago.
For the Pacific, now is a time of profound change; and this change is occurring at an unprecedented pace. Geo-strategic competition has once again made our region a place of renewed interest and strategic importance. Climate change and disaster risk affects our people in a variety of ways including increased severe weather events, scarcity of food and water, and displaced communities. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are burgeoning, and with them issues relating to accessibility, cyber security and cyber enabled crime.
While many countries are reshaping the global rules and institutions into ways that might not always support our interests or reflect our values, as Pacific countries, we remain resolute to assert such. Recognising that our strength lies in our collective will, the Pacific region is again seeking to assert its common values and concerns.
Under the flagship of our Blue Pacific identity, we are strengthening our collective voice amidst the geopolitical din on the existential threat of climate change that looms for all of our Pacific family. Climate change remains the single greatest threat to our ocean continent. Limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5 is vital for the Blue Pacific.
We need the full support of the economies gathered here today in making the necessary transition to low carbon development. What is at stake for us as a region is the very survival of our people.
We are appreciative of the recognition that it is time for APEC, and the Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) to work more closely to reinforce a sustainable, transparent and highly-adaptable regional economic architecture that is able to ensure complementarities among multi-layered cooperation arrangements in the region. Our deliberations today, under the theme “Partnering for an Inclusive Digital Future”, will provide fresh impetus to cooperation and synergy between the APEC and the Pacific island countries and help to strengthen the Asia-Pacific region as a driver of global economic integration and growth. As well it will also help overcome challenges faced as a result of our vast geographical span and small island economies.
The opportunities that digital transformation can offer the Pacific is unparalleled. Enhanced digital connectivity can bring markets nearer to our island shores, connect our sellers to the world and reduce the high operating costs for our governments and businesses. It has the potential to be catalytic for the development and growth of our island
economies and consequently, provide the means for more people to share the benefits of growth through the achievement of sustainable development. As well, they not only bridge the digital divide but also our isolation as small islands developing states.
In February this year, we launched our new Tui-SAMOA submarine fibre optic trunk which has expanded our bandwidth some 800-fold. Samoa is no longer and will never be remote as it once was.
Recognising the criticality of the geopolitical juncture we are at, we firmly believe that we must be able to capitalise on and utilise the tools and platforms that are available to us to navigate inter-regional complexities. The Pacific is swimming in a sea of so-called ‘fit for purpose’ strategies stretched from the tip of Africa, encompassing the Indian Ocean and morphing into the vast Blue Pacific Ocean continent –our home and place.
And what is being asked of the inhabitants and longstanding stewards of the largest ocean continent on the Blue Planet? – to ensure freedom of navigation and open skies for strategic access. Indeed, the precious resources and assets that we have, offer immense value and potential to the world. We are highly protective of our means of livelihoods, and increasingly embracing regional action to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries and marine resources. And we are actively asserting our ambitions to ensure that there is an inheritance for the generations to come.
Protecting and sustaining the economic value of our tuna fisheries is vital and requires the region to work as one. The Pacific is home to one of the last remaining sustainable tuna resource in the world. The importance of the tuna industry and its interconnectedness with the global community cannot be over-emphasised. Ultimately, the global tuna trade is impacted by market access and access issues and the behaviour of consumers, which will increasingly influence the way the Industry deals with sustainability and social accountability issues of our fishery.
In our journey towards the achievement of sustainable development, there is a very clear need to reinforce and support existing and promising approaches particularly those that are non-partisan and non-interventionist.
The Blue Pacific identity increasingly provides the basis for engagement within our region, and with those outside the region premised on questions of how we can best protect, sustain and leverage the value of our Blue Pacific Continent. Any engagement with the Pacific must take note and respect these circumstances as this is how we have managed to remain a stable,secure and peaceful region. We value open and genuine relationships, and inclusive and enduring partnerships within our region and beyond. We look forward to strengthening constructive engagements between our economies for the prosperity of our peoples and for the wellbeing of our place and the Blue Planet at large.
After all the momentum of the Blue Pacific reminds and inspires ‘us all’ to value the strategic potential of the region, and to act together from a position of strength.