The Pacific Islands Forum Chair, Cook Islands PM Mark Brown, has thanked the Government of Fiji and staff of the Forum for an ‘unforgettable’ ceremonial welcome to the secretariat this week.

In a speech following a Fiji welcome including acknowledgements of the vanua and people, and a programme featuring traditional speeches, symbolic preparation and sharing of kava, and presentations of mats, food, and cultural performance, the Forum Chair paid tribute to Pacific leaders including Fiji PM Rabuka, former Cook Islands PM, now SG Henry Puna, and the first leaders of the first Forum meeting, held 52 years ago.

“I have visited the Forum on many an occasion over the years, as an official, as a Minister and as a Leader. Whenever I come through the gates and see the flags of the Forum Members flying, I’m reminded the sacrifice of our forebears, the legacy they have blessed us with and the history that surrounds our premier regional organisation,” said PM Brown.

“The Pacific Islands Forum has met numerous challenges over the years and the conversations within these walls have shaped Pacific history, Pacific people and our Blue Pacific continent,” he added.

PM Brown noted the vision of the Forum, set by the 2050 strategy, sharing his intention to “build new partnerships and refresh existing priorities so that we can deliver on the goals of the 2050 strategy.

Through the 2050 Implementation Plan, the Cook Islands would like to see Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity that will realize new finance flows into the region for climate change and weather ready investments; progress gender equality; reinvigorate the Rarotonga treaty for a nuclear free Pacific; strengthen cyber security; build scientific knowledge of our ocean; eliminate plastics from our environment; and address the challenges of labour mobility and climate mobility.”

“Building partnerships is at the very core of the Forum and the Cook Islands understands that we need the Members, our Secretariat and our development partners to work closely together to achieve the necessary actions to move forward. The Pacific is a focus for many diverse partners in this moment of time. Change brings challenges as well as opportunities. In some ways, the Secretariat will also need to change to meet these new challenges and support members harness the opportunities a post COVID world offer,” the Forum Chair said.

He also hinted at new moves to formalise leadership of the troika, which includes the former, current, and upcoming hosts of the Leader meetings, and the need for the Secretariat to step up to the challenges of implementing the 2050 Strategy and Implementation plan.

“Finally, I look forward to welcoming all our Leaders and their delegations, development partners and CROP agencies, supported by our Secretariat, to the Cook Islands for the Leaders meeting in November.

This week, our Forum Economic Ministers Meeting will discuss our forward regional economic priorities, and collective actions. FEMM, the first of our Ministerial meetings leading up to the Leaders gathering in November, will set our ambition and pace. I encourage our proactive engagement in discussions, so our recommendations deliver transformative benefits for our Pacific people.”

In his welcoming remarks, Forum Secretary General Henry Puna noted the 07 August date — the anniversary of the 1971 Wellington first gathering of seven Forum Leaders.

“52 years ago today, economic development for our South Pacific Islands nations was a core focus of the Wellington meeting and more so, the early years of this forum,” said SG Puna, “As we gather here, on the eve of the 2023 Forum Economic Ministers Meeting I am heartened by the collective efforts of our Forum family in the last year as we have worked to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic — the challenges ahead of us remain complex, but it is in collective opportunities such as the Ministerial Meeting this week, that we can shape and learn from each other to guide our region forward.”

Following the ceremonial welcome, the Forum Chair joined Vanuatu’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Viran Brown, SG Puna, and other guests for speeches and cake-cutting commemorations in a joint Cook Islands 58th and Vanuatu 43rd Independence anniversary event.

The 26th FEMM, from the 09-10 August at the Forum Secretariat, will deliver outcomes that will go before Forum Leaders when they meet in the Cook Islands this November.