By Pita Ligaiula in Port Vila
“The socio-economic fallout of the pandemic, a complex geopolitical environment and the enduring threat of climate change and climate induced disasters – what has been declared by our Leaders as a climate emergency continues to drive and shape our strategic policy considerations for the region, says Forum deputy secretary general Dr Filimon Manoni.
Speaking at the opening of the Forum Economic Officials Meeting (FEOM) in Vanuatu, Dr Manoni said the over the past two years the region has had to navigate and chart its course through some of the most challenging times.
“Coupled with the Russo-Ukraine conflict, the region continues to be susceptible to global shocks and trends, particularly, the continued increase in fuel prices, which in turn is driving rising costs of living across our region.
“These immediate challenges limited fiscal space and stressed national budgets, exacerbate Members coping capacities, as they endeavour to recover and ensure the viability of their economic systems as well as provide opportunities for their people to achieve economic prosperity and wellbeing.
“Notwithstanding the challenges of our time, we must embrace the opportunities they present. Opportunities to re-orient ourselves and strengthen our Pacific Way. To future proof ourselves, to build our economic resilience in order to enable us to face our economic challenges with dignity, and from a position of strength,” Dr Manoni told FEOM officials.
He said the 2022 Forum Economic Officials meeting is an opportunity to have robust discussions on forward looking and innovative collective solutions that can boost economic growth across our Blue Pacific Continent.
“This is an opportunity for you, as Senior Officials and Economic Advisers to your Ministers and Governments, to reflect on how best we can leverage our collective strength to negotiate better terms for our economies globally.
“Our Leaders, through the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, have articulated their vision and aspirations of where they want our region to be in the next two to three decades. It is now our duty as Economic Advisers and Experts, to determine how we can best traverse the coming years, as a collective, to ensure that we have the right mechanisms, partnerships and means of implementation to achieve our Leaders vision.
“Our Leaders have given us the blueprint. It is now up to us to develop innovative and home-grown solutions that are contextualised to our needs and priorities. These solutions must embrace our Pacific values and cultures, and more importantly, solutions that will deliver the impact where it needs to be felt – by our people in support of their livelihoods and wellbeing all across our great Blue Pacific Continent,” Dr Manoni said.
As we look further into the future, we must not lose sight of the challenges that confront us today, he said.
“Rather they should be the lenses we use to make sure that we build resilient and stronger economies in the future.
“Indeed, the future economic prosperity of our region, of our people, is in your hands,” Dr Manoni said.
Vanuatu’s Finance, Economic Management Director General, August Letlet while addressing the officials said COVID-19 has taken its toll on Pacific economies and led to loss of lives in our countries.
He said according to the World Health Organisation, as of last week, there have been 3,200 deaths, and 423,726 cases across 21 Pacific countries.
“We remember those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
“Our combined regional economic response to COVID-19 and the support from our development partners has fortified us to a certain extent from the short-term effects of the pandemic. The crisis has also exposed some of our core vulnerabilities and legacy issues, which we urgently need to deal with,” said Letlet.
According to ADB’s Pacific Economic Monitor, the Pacific’s regional GDP contraction for 2021 is downwards to -0.6percent. Conversely, the 2022 forecast which was projected to rebound by 4.7percent, is now cast in a gloomy light.
At the same time, the IMF’s July World Economic Outlook forecasts increasingly gloomy developments in 2022, with the global outlook overwhelmingly tilted to the downside, said Letlet.
“At the official technical level, I believe each of us here knows exactly what the financial and fiscal position of our countries are. We know the challenges, we feel the heartbeat of our countries, as we manage the finances of our governments’ every day.
“The matter before us now is, how do we recover faster, stronger, together, with limited or tightening fiscal head space and debt levels, against a gloomy global forecast? How do we strategise our recovery in such a way, that in spite of these challenges, we build our resilience simultaneously as we respond to ongoing shocks?
“In order to move forward, we need to recognise the risks to our recovery and obstacles to our economic pathway to 2050, and how we design our economic response to mitigate these shocks, so that our development can be non-regressive, given our scarce fiscal and other resources.
“If COVID-19 was the first global shock, then the impact of global fuel price increases on inflation and increased food, energy, transport prices, would be the second. What then will be the impact on the Pacific from the on-going conflict in Europe and what appears to be brewing geo-political instability in the Taiwan strait? And I have not even mentioned shocks from disasters and climate change risks,” explained Letlet.
He said a set of recommendations that offers clear actions to lead the Pacific out of the crisis into a more fiscally stable and sustainable recovery phase will be deliberated today.
“The answers we seek to these questions are before us. We will deliberate on them today.
“This is a critical point of pivot in our economic trajectory, what we recommend today will shape our medium to long-term economic prosperity. Let us deliberate with careful thought, as the outcomes from these first face to face FEMM meeting, will define and shape the character of our Pacific spirit, to boldly respond to this crisis from a place of dignity, creativity, and strength.
“At the heart of resilience, is the need for us to be more risk-centred in our economic development approach, to confront our challenges with a sense of urgency, and to be coherent in our regional actions, to make 2050 a reality,” said Letlet.
The theme for this FEMM is “Towards a Resilient Economic Recovery and Stability” .