7 Apr 2004

Pacific Islands Forum meeting supports proposed changes to the organisation

10:31 am on 7 April 2004

13 Pacific leaders and representatives of two other Forum member states have endorsed a Pacific Plan which outlines major changes needed at the leading regional body, the Pacific Islands Forum.

The Plan is the work of an Eminent Person's Group whose leader, former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Julius Chan, says the region's difficulties can only be overcome through foresight, determination and regional integration.

Forum chair New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says the Plan charts a clear way forward.

She says the Forum Secretariat is mandated to add detail to the Plan by the time of the leader's meeting in Apia in August.

"For the first time we have a strong role for the Secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum and we have brought to the fore issues like the role of women, the role of youth, in Pacific societies, human rights issues and civil society egagement, all of which are new areas of focus for the Forum."

Helen Clark.

The new secretary general of the Forum, Greg Urwin, says he'll be doing a lot of travelling in the region in coming months explaining and taking comment on the Forum's new direction.

I think it is crucial, because the way I have read this report and the priority I consider most important, is to get the best possible sense of what island leaders are mostly concerned about and to reflect that in the Forum itself and in the work of the Secretariat.

The new secretary general of the Forum, Greg Urwin

And the chairman of the Forum Small Island States grouping, the Cook Islands Prime Minister, Dr Robert Woonton, says they welcome the greater focus on their problems by the other Forum countries.

The Pacific Plan stresses that a fundamental role of the Forum is to support the Small Island States and to advocate their interests.

This particularly focusses on their limited capacity and protecting their fragile enivronments, including from climate change.

Dr Woonton says if the search for solutions to problems such as poor transport links, environmental and energy issues is mainstreamed through the Forum it will have a very positive economic impact.

Without that support the chances of our small economies suriving is very poor. We recognise our disadvantage and by collectively working together we hopefully can ease the burden on our small economies.