RAROTONGA, 15 OCTOBER 2020 (COOK ISLANDS FOREIGN MINISTRY)—Prime Minister Mark Brown in his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration led the Cook Islands delegation to this year’s Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting (FFMM).
This is the second meeting of Foreign Ministers that’s been necessary to convene this year, taking place virtually via zoom technology due to border closures. The earlier meeting, held in July, culminated in Foreign Ministers establishing the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 which has proven instrumental in moving much needed medical and humanitarian supplies and Pacific people across the Pacific region. Featuring prominently in Wednesday’s discussions was the three-prong crisis facing the region: the impact of COVID-19, the devastating effects of climate change and natural disasters, and the fragile economic health of the region because of inherent vulnerabilities.
“These three regional security threats are recognised as security threats in our own draft National Security Policy and the Cook Islands must work collaboratively with other Forum member countries and others if we are to going to overcome those threats and protect and promote our national and regional security,” said the Prime Minister.
Foreign Ministers will consider a draft Statement on COVID-19 for the consideration of Forum Leaders when they meet later this year. The Statement will identify the challenges facing the region as a result of the pandemic and the collective intentions of the region as relate to overcoming those challenges, working in partnership with the international community.
“Although our country has thus far remained COVID-free, our economy has suffered greatly because of border closures and the suspension of tourism,” observed Brown.
“We will be seeking inclusion in the Leaders Statement of a unified call for support from development partners including multilateral development banks. It is vital that access to debt standstill/relief facilities and grants include all Forum Island Countries and all SIDS, no matter its national income status to address the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on the health and economic sectors of SIDS. Paying normal market rates for liquidity support is neither innovative nor is it an effective means to render assistance nor supplement operating balances to those most vulnerable, particularly SIDS, amidst this unprecedented global health and economic crisis.”
In the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security Forum Leaders identified climate change as the single greatest threat to regional security. This year’s FFMM will consider the region’s strategy in the coming months leading up to next year’s global climate change negotiations to be held in the United Kingdom. “While our immediate focus has been on the impact of COVID-19, climate change continues to pose an existential threat and we must work closely with other like-minded countries if we are to reduce the impact of climate change in the future,” said the Prime Minister.
Also on Ministers agenda is regional efforts to achieve the regional 2050 Vision of our Blue Pacific continent. Last month, a ‘Drivers of Change’ consultation facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was held in the Cook Islands to identify factors that could impact on the regional 2050 Vision. Some 60 representatives from across Cook Islands Government, private sector and civil society contributed to identifying what the Cook Islands sees as the drivers of change and the results of our consultation have been fed into the regional policy-formulation process.
“More than ever, our region must remain united in the face of unprecedented challenges, for it is only through our combined strength, wisdom and experiences can we successfully counter those challenges and the most vulnerable members of our Pacific family be supported and benefit. I am proud of the contribution that has been made by Cook Islanders over the years and we continue to make to the development of our region and as a result of that development we benefit at home as well,” stated the Prime Minister.
Also on the FFMM agenda is the topic of Oceans and proposals for regional collaboration to promote and protect our Blue Pacific continent. This is of great importance for the Cook Islands, observed PM Brown.
“For the people of the Cook Islands our ocean resources are not only our heritage from our ancestors but also our source of wealth. We must harvest the resources of the ocean in a sustainable manner, adopting a precautionary approach based on the best scientific, technical and legal advice. And we must do so in ways that complement and support best practice throughout our region so that our entire Pacific family can benefit.”
Sea level rise and maritime boundaries will also be discussed by Ministers. Identified as both a national and regional security threat, rising sea levels have already led to numerous small islands around the world disappearing beneath the waves. Forum Members are adopting a proactive approach, asserting that rising sea levels have no effect on maritime boundaries properly set in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (IUNCLOS). The Cook Islands will be working closely with other Forum Members to ensure that our legitimate rights in this regard are universally recognised.
“Although a very technical and complex issue, it is fundamental to our territorial sovereignty and our experts will be working closely with others to protect our fundamental interests,” PM Brown explained.
There is also expected to be some discussion by Ministers of arrangements for this year’s Forum Leaders Meeting and the appointment by Leaders of the new Secretary General. Because of travel restrictions resulting from COVID-19, it has not been possible for Forum Leaders to meet face-to-face this year to consider important regional issues. As a result, it will be necessary to hold a virtual Forum Leaders Retreat later this year to consider a limited number of topics. At that Retreat, Leaders are expected to consider the region’s response to COVID-19 and arrangements for appointment of the new Secretary-General. “The current Chair of the Forum is the Prime Minister of Tuvalu and he has been working hard under very trying circumstances to make arrangements for the Forum,” observed Brown. “We appreciate his efforts to date, including his confirmation that the 2002 Forum Leaders decision on arrangements for appointing the Secretary General remain in force and that appointments to that position are to be based on merit.” The Cook Islands Government has nominated Henry Puna, former Prime Minister, for the position of PIFS Secretary General.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) based in Suva is facilitating and providing support to the 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum in this meeting of Foreign Ministers. The work of PIFS, which is the main political organisation in our region is complemented by a number of other regional organisations with valuable expertise in the service of the region, comprising the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP). These include the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP).
“As political leaders, it is necessary for us to support and ensure the good governance and independent operations of all our CROP agencies to ensure they can undertake their respective missions effectively for the benefit of the people of our region,” observed the Prime Minister.
Assessing the regional situation in advance of the FFMM, Prime Minister Brown observed that the region was in uncertain challenging times and the need for regional unity was greater than ever.
“We are entering a period of uncertainty in which our regional cohesion and concept of the Pacific family are under threat. In the past, we used to be able to reinforce our ties through regular meetings and face-to-face conversations on all sorts of issues, which reinforced our togetherness. In the face of the divers threats we face today, we must make special efforts to maintain our unity and decision-making for the benefit of the region as a whole. It is only in this way that we, the people of the Blue Pacific continent will not only survive but thrive in the years to come,” he said……PACNEWS

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