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PIF: Open trade and regionalism on leaders’ agenda

The people of Vanuatu gathered to watch the official opening of the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit. (Photo by Josephine Latu, in Port Vila.)

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Josephine Latu, in Port Vila.

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting kicked off this morning in Port Vila, Vanuatu with a push for open trade and regionalism while bracing for another “looming” economic crisis.

Prime Minister of Vanuatu and chair of the PIF meeting this year Edward Natapei formally opened the leaders’ meeting Wednesday morning, citing economic hard times while pointing to Asia for models of recovery.

“The global economic crisis continues to impact our economies… [We] cannot cope with persistent external shocks of this severity… We cannot afford to be complacent anymore in the Pacific.

We need to be proactive and build on the optimism for recovery, led by examples of vibrant economies such as China and India,” he said.

Australia's foreign minister, Stephen Smith and Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei. (Photo by Josephine Latu, in Port Vila.)

Prime Minister Natapei warned that recent success by some American banks did not mean a sustainable economic solution for the global economy.

“Uncertainty… remains because without a sustained vigilance and reforms, the IMF has warned of a looming major financial crisis more severe than any experienced so far,” he said.

Fiji, regional trade

He endorsed regional trade agreements PICTA and PACER-Plus, calling for a united promotion of the free flow of goods and services throughout the region.

While handing over official chairmanship of the forum to Vanuatu, Australian foreign affairs minister Stephen Smith added that future Pacific economic development lay in more trade liberalization while “avoiding protectionism”.

Meanwhile Fiji remains excluded from Forum discussions.

PNG minister for Physical Planning and District Development Paul Tiensten told the media that Fiji was integral to regional trade.

“I think between Fiji and PNG we comprise 80 to 90 percent of the [Pacific] economy. Fiji is an integral part and it should be part of the whole regional family,” he said.

Natapei said it was leaders’ “duty and responsibility” to remain engaged with Fiji in restoring the estranged nation to a democratic government.

Josephine Latu is reporting for Pacific Scoop at the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu.