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By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Funafuti
Tuvalu’s Prime Minister and host of this week’s annual summit of Pacific Leaders has shared his views on what he thinks the collective strategy for the regional grouping should look like in the next 30 years.
When Pacific leaders gather in Funafuti this week, one of the issues on the agenda is to develop a long-term 2050 strategy for the region.
“At the end of the 35 years of the Forum and the 50th meeting of Pacific Leaders, are we seeing any political or economic integration because of our unique vulnerabilities and it there are gaps despite the voluminous and plethora of overseas development assistance to our region.
“Is the next 50 years going to reduce our unique vulnerabilities or should we ignore vulnerability and privatise it to other bodies if we cannot see it as common goal, Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga challenged other leaders from 17 Forum Island Country leaders.
A vision Tuvalu sees emerging – but this will be subject to further discussion this week, is a region committed to the Blue Continent concept with combined sovereign rights, combined rights over their exclusive economic zone and perhaps a common trade policy and, said the Tuvalu PM.
“We have been discussing this in the context of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus. The main spirit of the PICTA was to allow island countries to do what they can do first before they move to a PACER Plus sort of an arrangement.
“For a small island country like to Tuvalu to enter into some sort of trade agreement with other countries is not practical but if we solidify these 18 sovereign countries into something formidable, may be a united Blue Pacific continent with certain common policies, we can get leverage. Nobody would ever say that those are little islands and don’t want to deal with them. They will have to think twice.
“If we combine our votes at the United Nations and say we are not going to vote for you unless you support climate change in the Security Council, they will listen. If we unite and say you are not going to fish in our exclusive economic zone of 40 million square kilometres, they are going to listen. You pay the price or don’t come to fish, said PM Sopoaga.
“These are my personal thinking but the leaders will need to have a good discussion when we come together this week.
This is one the many issues that Prime Minister Sopoaga will use his leadership to steer discussions to bring trust and respect amongst the leaders and to reach a common and united outcome.
“I will use every opportunity to speak individually to groups to try to harness that solidarity to come together. It’s critical that we try to step up our commitment to solidarity to working together to focus on our common goals, issues and deliverables.
“We need to step up our leadership solidarity, taking advantage of our achievements over the past years, particularly the regional framework for regionalism – that is a critical key vehicle that we need to work on, not looking at the differences but perhaps looking more at the common shared vision under that framework,” said Sopoaga.
He admits that there remains the issue of mistrust amongst the membership that needs to be ironed out.
“There is this issue of mistrust that is always hanging behind us and we need to address that head on. We don’t have to hide behind our words and these are leaders of very important members of the Forum and we still have to respect them individually.
On trying to align climate change positions of member countries, PM Sopoaga agrees that genuine discussions need to take place here in Funafuti this week.
“Regardless how much money you put into the Step-Up policy, it doesn’t mean anything if you are contributing to the serious impacts of climate change that will affect your own people living in the Pacific, referring to honest discussions that he hopes to have with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the leaders meeting.
“When I met Prime Minister Scott Morrison before the general elections, we had a very genuine discussion and that is the spirit that I would like to be taken advantage here in Tuvalu.
Both the Australian and New Zealand leaders will be in Tuvalu on Wednesday in time for the Leaders Plenary session and the Retreat on Thursday.
Three leaders will not attend this year’s Leaders’ Summit – the Premier of Niue, Sir Toke Talagi, the President Tommy Remengsau and the new President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo.
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