A COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force will be established by the 18-members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to respond to the economic devastation brought by COVID-19 to the region.
At a virtual media conference on Wednesday following the two-day online Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM), Chair Tuvalu’s Finance Minister Seve Paeniu told reporters, “The ministers …feel very determined about articulating an appropriate economic response plan to address what has happened over the last six to seven months to our economies.”
Border closures have paused tourism, resulting in unemployment and reduced export incomes and remittances for relatives working overseas.
Mr. Paeniu said COVID-19 also has added to the health challenges faced by the fragile economies of Pacific nations on top of the impact of climate change.
“So I think there was an acceptance by ministers that it will no longer be business as usual because post-COVID would be an entirely different environment. It will be known as the new normal. It’s a different reality that we would end up in post COVID,” Paeniu said.
“We’ve seen the impact and the consequences on our tourism industry, on our trade or international transportation, on our fisheries and a whole lot of other economic sectors. And therefore the need to restructure our economy in that new normal space or framework.”
The ministers made commitments on several efforts to economic recovery, which includes investment in health, infrastructure, public services, and food security, and they shared lessons -learned to address the impacts of the pandemic.
The ministers also vowed to work with the private sector and prioritize the most vulnerable.
In the meeting, the ministers also highlighted the importance of developing a more robust information and communications technology and to deal with new problems with transport and freight costs and blockages.
While Palau is missing from the meeting, Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. earlier said debt stress will further impact Pacific economies which will need a regional, unified approach to ensure debt sustainably.
While accumulating debts has already been a challenge, COVID-19 compounds debt burdens all the more, which will be a challenge to Palau and other Pacific nations.
The ministers issued a statement calling for support from international partners to address the financial crunch governments are facing.
They asked bilateral, multilateral, regional and development agencies, to work with them on providing debt relief, budget support, frontloading existing donor programs and project pipelines, and reprioritizing current donor focal areas.
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor emphasized the need for the Pacific nations to invest in strong health systems including taking advantage of climate funds such as the Green Climate Fund which offer as-yet-utilized opportunities for health infrastructure.
“Investment in strong health services in our countries is very important, health infrastructure so that when they open up and aim towards economic recovery, they are backed by the fact that they have a capable and strong health infrastructure so that they can cope with COVID-19 and other illnesses so that there is a level of protection as we start to integrate again or within the region,” Dame Meg said.
Earlier this week, Dame Meg said COVID-19 has brought to the fore the limitations of the Pacific’s health systems and their inadequacies.
She said only two countries the Cook Islands and Palau – have adequate health infrastructure.

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