16 Aug 2002

Pacific Islands Forum opens in Fiji

5:36 am on 16 August 2002

Fiji's prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has opened the Pacific Islands Forum summit in Suva, with a call on leaders to improve the lives of their people.

He says they need to take control of discussions so that they focus on daily problems.

"Our purpose here is to discuss our joint development interests and concerns in the presence of our very important partners, Australia and New Zealand. and with our post-forum dialogue partners. When the meetings have finished and when the decisions are made, we should always ask, what does this mean for our people."

Mr Qarase also says the Pacific must express its opposition to the polluters and exploiters and be vigilant against those intent on poaching and plundering the Pacific's marine resources.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Forum chair, President Rene Harris of Nauru, told the opening ceremony that there has never been a stronger need for a united voice against challenges such as climate change, nuclear shipments and the OECD anti-taxhaven policies.

We as a region, should therefore be actively engaged in the shaping of the global responses to these issues, or if we do not, no-one would speak for us. Colleagues, never in the history of the Forum has the call for regional co-operation been stronger.

Earlier, small Pacific states said they were disappointed that the US rejected the Kyoto Protocol

While naming the US, the leaders could not agree on whether to name Australia, which is also opposed to the Kyoto Protocol.

Tuvalu's prime minister, Saufatu Sopoanga, says he wanted to have Australia named.

The small states also say they will push for a ban of nuclear shipments, with the Cook Islands prime minister, Robert Woonton, saying that would be the best policy.

Any ban might be symbolic because it is unlikely to win support from Australia.

Meanwhile, the Australian prime minister, John Howard, says aid is increasingly tied to proper standards of law and order and good governance.

He says without good governance, it's not possible to attract foreign investors or to maintain the foreign investment there is.