Palau opens Forum with call for leaders to get to work

Updated at 8:19 pm on 30 July 2014

Originally aired on Dateline Pacific, Wednesday 30 July 2014

A Pacific leaders' summit has begun in Palau with its host calling for leaders to pull up their sleeves and get to work to protect the region's ocean and fisheries.


The Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit has begun in Palau with its host calling for leaders to pull up their sleeves and get to work to protect the region's ocean and fisheries.

At least 300 delegates including leaders, ministers and senior officials are in Palau's capital Koror for the 45th Forum leaders' meeting, which opened Tuesday evening.

Amelia Langford attended the opening ceremony, which began with the sounding of a conch shell, traditional Paluan chanting and a welcome to leaders.

The ceremony included a roll call of who's who in the Pacific with leaders ranging from Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong. However there were some notable exceptions including New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, who was represented by Foreign Minister Murray McCully. The incoming chair of the Forum and President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, got the Forum off to a strong start with his opening comments.

TOMMY REMENGESAU: I am a fisherman. Many of you are like me. We claim to be fishermen. But it really doesn't take a fisherman to tell us that fish stocks are dwindling significantly and fish sizes are smaller.

The president outlined some of the goals Pacific nations could work towards to ensure sustainable fisheries, in keeping with the Forum's ocean theme.

TOMMY REMENGESAU: We must look to build on past achievements and respond to new challenges, including increasing the resilience of our marine ecosystem, setting the stage for fair sharing of the economic benefits of sustainably managed marine resources.

He also encouraged leaders to build a stronger regional network.

TOMMY REMENGESAU: I would ask that each of us focus on our own partnerships and make significant commitment for future actions to meet the reality and scope of our ocean and development challenges.

In his speech as the outgoing chair of the Forum, Marshall Islands president, Christopher Loeak, said he was glad climate change would remain high on the agenda for this year's Forum. But he also made a plea for Pacific nations to address the increasing threat posed by noncommunicable diseases such as obesity.

CHRISTOPHER LOEAK: Seventy-five percent of deaths in our region are NCD-related. Most of our countries have higher rates of premature deaths below the age of 60 than other regions.

The Marshall Islands president called for leaders to strengthen their response to the issue of NCDs, which he described as unfinished business. During this year's Forum, leaders are also expected to review the Pacific Plan and discuss how it can become a more effective tool. Leaders will also choose a new Secretary-General to replace Tuiloma Neroni Slade, who has finished his term.