Opening Remarks By His Excellency Christopher J. Loeak
President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands
2012 FORUM TRADE MINISTERS' MEETING (FTMM)
International Convention Center
Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands
Mokta jen ao wonmaanlok wot im kwalok enaan in ao ilo kebellok in an kwelok in Minister rein an Trade jen belaak in Pacific in, ikonaan kobalok ilo jar eo an Reverend Enja Enos im lelok kile, nebar im kamolol nan Eo Ri-komanman kin karok kein an remman kij armij ejelok ad melele kaki.
Ao naan in kile nan Chairman eo an Council eo an Irooj im Irooj ro ad ilo imweo imweir im Irooj im Lerooj ro ad ilo belaak ko kajojo ilo belaak in Marshall in im ijoko ilikin Ailin kein bareinwot.
Mr. Speaker, Vice-Speaker, ro uwaan Cabinet im Nitijela eo, Chief Justice eo im ro ilo jikin ekajet ko ad, Mayor eo an Majuro in, Mudge Samuel, im Mayor ro jet mottan jen ailin ko kajojo ilo belaak in Ailin Kein, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Reverend Enja Enos im Ri-kaki ro Jemed ilo kabun ko ad kajojo, ro ilo private sector eo im doulul ko ilikin kien,
Honorable Ministers responsible for Trade,
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade,
Chief Trade Adviser to the Forum Island Countries, Dr Edwini Kessie,
Head of the Oceania Customs Organisation, Mr Kulu Bloomfield,
Distinguished Trade Officials, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to warmly welcome you all to Majuro for this Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting (FTMM). I wish to thank Forum Members and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for giving my government the opportunity to host this important meeting in the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI). I do hope that you are enjoying your stay here so far and find the facilities and environment to your liking.
2. Earlier this week the senior trade officials met in this facility and deliberated on a wide range of trade-related issues affecting our region. You would have received their recommendations on the same set of papers which you will now consider, and which await your consideration and policy decisions. A few of these issues have been at the forefront of the regional trade agenda for some time, including the PACER Plus negotiations for one, and the expansion of the Pacific Trade and Invest Offices for another. In order to maintain momentum and progress these initiatives to achieve the Leader’s vision for a peaceful and prosperous Pacific region, the trade officials need from you, their Ministers, clear actionable decisions, and a renewed mandate for their work. Furthermore, your own recommendations will ultimately be conveyed to the Forum Leaders’ for their consideration. With that in mind, your diligence and dedication throughout today’s meeting sessions are of utmost importance.
3. Besides PACER Plus, we have other regional and sub-regional trade discussions which are well advanced, such as the EPA with the EU, and the PICTA Trade in Services negotiations. Though these two sets of negotiations are covered substantively by the Pacific ACP Ministerial and Official’s meetings, we will receive a brief on these two areas in the session later today. Trade negotiations and meetings such as these are undertaken for the benefits that they will accrue to the stakeholders and the people. With multiple important trade negotiations nearing their conclusion, it is my hope that they will provide the much-needed platform for comprehensive economic growth, and a dynamic environment for the engine of our regional economies, which is the private sector.
4. On 03 May 2012 the Marshall Islands held its final round of consultations on the Trade Policy Framework under the auspices of the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC), which consists of the key stakeholders in Government, private sector and non-governmental organizations. The NTFC reviewed and finalized the Trade Policy and submitted it to Cabinet for approval. I am pleased to announce that the Cabinet endorsed RMI’s first Trade Policy Framework at a special Cabinet meeting that was held yesterday. The main objective of the Trade Policy is to mainstream trade into RMI’s national development plan and to undertake the necessary reforms in trade and investment laws to create a transparent and predictable environment, which is conducive for sustainable, inclusive and private sector-led economic growth and development.
5. The Trade Policy will assist RMI to accede to PICTA, to sign PICTA Trade in services and participate effectively in PACER Plus negotiations. It recommends RMI to sign the comprehensive EPA to enable the private sector to add value to fisheries resources and export fisheries products directly to the EU. The Trade Policy proposes bold reforms, including liberalization of a number of sectors, to improve the basic infrastructure services such as transportation, telecommunication and education, which are key to reducing the cost of doing business in RMI. These reforms will assist RMI to enhance private sector development and stimulate economic growth in preparation for the expiry of Compact funds in 2023.
6. The Trade Policy Framework contains an implementation matrix, which identifies RMI’s national trade needs and priorities and will be used to improve donor coordination to ensure that resources are channeled towards addressing RMI’s production and supply-side constraints inhibiting the private sector from producing goods and services that can be traded competitively. RMI appreciates the support that has been provided by our donors, including the Forum Secretariat and the Hub and Spokes Project, in formulating the Trade Policy Framework. We look forward to working with all our donors and trading partners, including Australia and New Zealand, in implementing the Trade Policy. Technical and financial assistance will be required to implement the Trade Policy and enable RMI to undertake the necessary reforms, which includes the introduction of consumption tax, to enable RMI to prepare for the implementation of trade agreements and to build the capacity of the private sector to exploit the opportunities that may be offered by trade agreements.
7. The Pacific Plan, endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2005, identified economic growth as one of our region’s four key goals. The Pacific Plan seeks economic development in the region through sustainable economic growth; increased trade and investment; improved efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure development and associated service delivery; and increased private sector participation in, and contribution to, development and decision-making. These strategic goals require much concerted attention, effort and cooperation to unlock the benefits of improved trade and regional integration. We need to support these focal areas.
8. The Marshall Islands, although a member of the Freely Associated States with the United States, believes that regional integration with the Forum Members is of utmost importance, particularly in terms of connectivity within the region through transportation infrastructure such as shipping and airlines services, and communications. RMI is also working with the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau under the Micronesian Trade Committee (MTC) to promote trade among the Freely Associated States and also to pool resources together and cooperate on common trade issues including Compact trade matters.
9. Our Pacific island region is rich in culture and resources, vast in territory, and pleasant in climate and location. These features make our islands attractive to the wider global community. At the same time our diversity means that while we may seek broad consensus on issues as a region, we also face unique challenges which are not common to all. The Smaller Island States grouping, of which the Republic of the Marshall Islands is a member, faces particularly sharp challenges of climate change which impact greatly on food security in our region; high transport and energy costs, and significant levels of unemployment, as well as poverty and non-communicable diseases. I request that in making your decisions and recommendations to our Leaders, that you be mindful of the interests and views of the more vulnerable countries in the region.
10. All this I believe, can be supported through fair cooperation on important trade arrangements such as the PACER Plus agreement with Australia and New Zealand, the regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), and the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) which in various aspects are aligned to the priorities for growth and development. I need not delve into the technical aspects of these agreements as I understand that officials have highlighted these for your consideration today. More importantly, as a region we need to seek economic integration with much vigour and at a faster pace. Our lack of commitment and hesitations in intensive engagement on trade matters is depriving us from deriving the real benefits of regional trade. I encourage you all to look at ways in which we can intensify our engagement in regional economic integration.
11. With those few words, I now declare the 2012 Forum Trade Ministers Meeting officially open. It is our utmost pleasure to host you all in our islands. I wish you well in your deliberations.
Kom emool tata im Jeramman.