Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)
The origins of the Pacific Islands Forum date back to 1971 with the creation of the South Pacific Forum by the states of Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa. In 2000 the Forum took the decision to change the nature of the organization from a loose affiliation that mainly revolved around annual meetings at the level of heads of state and government, to an intergovernmental organization based on an international treaty, with specific permanent institutions and a name change to the Pacific Islands Forum. Membership of the Forum now stands at sixteen with the inclusion of the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Niue, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The Forum also has provisions for associate membership status for territories in the region that have yet to achieve self government.
||Keywords: Pacific Plan, increased (or further integration), economic growth, good governance, sustainable development, security
The main meeting of Forum is the annual gathering of the heads of state and government to discuss matters concerning the region and issue a communiqué that sets out subjects of concern, areas of agreement and plans for future action. At the Port Moresby Summit in October 2005 final agreement was reached on the new constitutive treaty for the Forum. The Treaty is the first step in establishing the Forum on a legal basis, establishing an institutional framework for the organization. The Agreement has been signed by all members of the Forum but has not yet received full ratification.
Recent Developments: A Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration
The main activities of the Forum currently revolve around the Pacific Plan. The Plan evolved from the 2004 Auckland Declaration where the leaders of the Forum adopted a vision statement for the future of regional cooperation. The Declaration set out that
[t]he Pacific region can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures, traditions and religious beliefs are valued, honored and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defense and promotion of human rights. We seek partnerships with our neighbors and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.
To give effect to this vision it was agreed to draw up a plan for future action and a Pacific Plan Task Force was created. In 2005 the task force issued the document A Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration, which has been accepted as the blueprint for future cooperation and integration in the region.
The Plan identifies four areas of action that are set out as goals to be pursued. These are
The Plan provides a number of particular points under each of these headings to further elaborate upon the goals to be pursued. For the enhancement of economic growth there are plans for increasing sustainable trade in goods and services and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the necessary infrastructure for trade.
- the enhancement and stimulation of economic growth;
- the pursuit of sustainable development;
- the achievement of good governance;
- the pursuit of security.
The pursuit of sustainable development involves reducing poverty, improving the management of natural resources and the environment, health, education and training, gender equality, enhancing the involvement of youth, and recognizing and protecting cultural values, identities and traditional knowledge. The achievement of good governance is concerned with 'improved transparency, accountability, equity and efficiency in the management and use of resources in the Pacific'. And the pursuit of security involves stable and safe social/human political conditions for, and reflective of, good governance and sustainable development for economic growth.
These particular points need to be read in conjunction with the broad meaning given to each heading in the Plan. Economic growth is defined as 'sustainable, pro-economic growth'. Sustainable development is defined as 'the integration and mutual reinforcement between the three pillars of economic development, social development, and environment conservation'. Essential requirements for sustainable development are identified, including 'stakeholder participation, poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and managing and conserving the natural resource base for economic and social development, while maintaining the underlying ecological processes'. Good governance is defined as 'the transparent, accountable and equitable management of all resources'. Furthermore it is stated that good governance is 'a prerequisite for sustainable development and economic growth.' Security is defined as the stable and safe social (or human) and political conditions necessary for, and reflective of, good governance and sustainable development for the achievement of economic growth.'
The four broad areas of the Plan are seen as interdependent and with no particular hierarchy of importance. Section IV sets out in ever greater detail the types of action, called initiatives, to be pursued. These activities are broken down into areas for immediate implementation in the period of 2006-2008; activities for agreement in principle; and, activities in need of further analysis. Implementation of the Plan is to be coordinated through the Secretariat and reference is made to the inclusion of development partners and other stakeholders for the purpose of creating and developing national policies on regionalism. The main focus for implementation is the building and supporting of national institutions and mechanisms for implementation. A Pacific Plan Action Committee has also been set up to monitor and report on the progress being made and to provide reviews on the action taken for implementing the Plan. A specific website has been created for information and activities directly related to the Pacific Plan.
At the 2006 Forum meeting the heads of state agreed on key commitments to concentrate on in furthering the development of the Plan. In the Nadi Decisions on the Pacific Plan specific areas of attention are set out with regard to the four overarching objectives. For economic growth there is a call for further efforts on regional energy issues, the development and implementation of trade agreements, along with consideration of a regional dispute settlement mechanism, and further efforts in the fields of information and communication technologies and transport. For sustainable development the focus is on improving access to financing under environmental agreements, water management and further support for initiatives concerning natural resource management, education, training and public health. For good governance there is a call to intensify support for the ongoing initiatives and to give greater attention to fostering participatory democracy and implementing international human rights conventions. For security the focus is on broader political and human security issues, but with very little details as to what this consists of.
In the 2007 Pacific Plan Annual Progress Report implementation of the Plan to date is described as 'pleasing', but that progress on the implementation of the initiatives varies considerably. In the area of economic growth it is recognized that a good deal of work still needs to be done due to the complexity of the measures involved. In the area of sustainable development the Pacific Energy Ministers have made considerable progress with regard to energy security and there has been increased access to the Global Environmental Facility for improving environmental management and conservation. With good governance it is recognized that not a great deal of substantive progress has been made given the sensitive nature of this area. For the most part activities have concentrated on consultations and assessments which will now need to be acted upon. In the area of security there has been the continuation of efforts concerning regional maritime safety and transnational policing. There have also been advancements in the Regional Early Warning Strategy for dealing with natural disasters.
Overall the report suggests that it is now time to move on from the assessment and evaluation stage of the Plan to greater efforts for implementation of the various initiatives. But there are concerns over the lack of substantive efforts and reporting from some countries in the region, as well as the availability of human and financial capacity for effective implementation. As the Pacific Plan is a political agreement it is extremely flexible in terms of strategies and outcomes. The lack of specific binding deadlines for action or substantive outcomes does leave open the potential for foot dragging at the implementation stage. The Forum will have its hands full over the next few years as it strives to ensure the full implementation of the Pacific Plan.
Dr. Richard Burchill, Director McCoubrey Centre for International Law Law School University of Hull
Available at http://www.pacificplan.org.
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