7 Aug 2004

Pacific Forum leaders begin private talks

9:36 am on 7 August 2004

The leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum get down to work from today at a Samoan beach resort.

The 35th Forum Summit began last night with a ceremony in the grounds of Samoa's parliament.

The retreat today will touch on a wide range of issues but key among them will be the further development of the Pacific Plan.

Don Wiseman reports from Apia.

"The leaders, without their officials in tow, will spend today on the south coast of Upolu island at the Sinalei Beach Resort. There they're expected to grapple with the plan, which is intended to herald in a new era of closer co-operation and regional integration. In his opening speech as chairman, the Samoa prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele, says the retreat will see deliberations on how the Pacific Plan should help the common interests of Forum nations. He also posed a number of questions raised by the concept. He says at the most basic level, the programmes brought in under the plan must ask the question, 'Will they improve the lives of our people?' Tuilaepa used transport as an area where gains may be made through regional integration. He spoke of the support his government has given to the national airline, Polynesian, to save it from collapse. But he says it will continue to struggle without a private sector partner. Tuilaepa says if innovative solutions to the region's problems with transport can be revealed by the plan in the regional transport study, a new era would dawn."