4 Jun 2013

Forum not threatend by rise of MSG - Forum chair

4:06 pm on 4 June 2013

The chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Cook Islands prime minister, Henry Puna, says he has no doubt the Forum will remain the overarching structure in the region.

Recently, members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group have been taking a more hands-on approach to issues such as trade and regional politics - matters that might once have been more the preserve of the regional body.

Last week, the trade minister of Papua New Guinea announced his country might pull out of the Forum's PACER Plus trade deal, which aims to create a regional common market.

Richard Maru says the deal was too weighted in New Zealand and Australia's favour.

He says he wants the MSG countries to develop trade amongst themselves first, before looking at the wider region.

Don Wiseman asked Mr Puna if such an attitude undermined PACER Plus.

HENRY PUNA: Obviously, there is a divergence of views here and we need to respect the divergent beliefs of our members as they have every right to put forward their own views. But it's something that I don't we can constructively move forward on if I was to comment publicly on it. So it's something that needs to be addressed internally among the leaders and also among the governments of the Pacific. And I look forward to advancing the discussions on that issue as soon as possible.

DON WISEMAN: What about the rise and of the Melanesian Spearhead Group? It would appear, to a large extent, that maybe that's happening at the expense of the Pacific Islands Forum.

HP: Oh, I don't think so. I think some regionalism has to be encouraged, and I've always been in favour of that. And it's good to see our Melanesian brothers become very actively involved in promoting, within their sub-region, their own interests. And that's to be encouraged. As you're aware, the Polynesian leaders group have also set up their own sub-regional group. And the reality is, initiatives like that cater to the realities of the region. There are many, many similarities that are shared by the sub-regional groups and we need to be aware of these and respect them. But at the same time, of course, the Forum remains the overarching structure, if you like, for us all here in the Pacific. It's important that we in the Pacific stay together and work together.

DW: You may reach a situation, though, where you have a strong Melanesian group, a strong Polynesian sub-regional group and a micronesian group, and there's no place for this overarching Pacific Islands Forum.

HP: Oh, look, I'm a firm believer in the Pacific way. And that belief has been reinforced many, many times in the recent past with common initiatives that the Pacific Leaders Forum has been able to achieve among its members.