31 Aug 2012

Pacific Forum leaders stay firm on Fiji

11:23 pm on 31 August 2012

Regional leaders have stayed firm in their determination to keep Fiji out of the Pacific Islands Forum for now and say it is important they present a united front.

The leaders met for their day-long retreat on the remote and picturesque Cook Islands atoll, One Foot Island, on Thursday as part of the three-day regional summit.

They agreed that Fiji will remain suspended if and when elections are held in 2014 as scheduled.

Cook Islands Prime Minister and forum chair Henry Puna said there was no great push to have Fiji reinstated.

Mr Puna said the integrity of the forum depends on unity, but each country is doing its part to make sure that Fiji is not completely isolated.

New Zealand Prime Minister and outgoing chair John Key said in his five years of attending the forum, this was the least intense as far as Fiji was concerned, although countries do have differing views.

Mr Key said New Zealand is not taking it for granted that Fiji will hold elections in 2014, which is why its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum will remain unchanged. New Zealand wants to encourage the positive signs being seen, but these should not be overstated.

"There's always a chance that (Fiji interim prime minister) Bainimarama won't go ahead with those elections. That's been the position in the past. So we'll take it one step at a time."

Mr Key said there are still significant problems - for example, calls for military immunity, and until the soldiers in Fiji return to the barracks, the nation won't be readmitted to the forum.

NZ to help nations protect fisheries

New Zealand is to commit an extra $10 million towards increasing surveillance and protection of fisheries in the Pacific.

Prime Minister John Key made the announcement on Friday at the forum.

The money takes New Zealand's total commitment to $50 million. It will target the management of long-line tuna and allow better surveillance, through satellite technology, to combat poaching by foreign countries.

The tuna fishery alone is estimated to be worth nearly $3 billion a year, with illegal fishing taking $500 - $600 million out of the region.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has said many countries, including Asian and European nations, operate illegally in the Pacific.

He is reluctant to name the countries involved as he says individual ship owners are responsible.

"But we certainly think that there's a way to go before we've eradicated that sort of behaviour in the region and we need co-operation from all of the governments involved."