Attendees at the Pacific Island Round Table in Dili, Timor Leste, March 2013
By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor
Fiji’s full return to all levels of Pacific ACP (African, Caribbean & Pacific) meetings on November 21 last year was ‘historical’ in many sense of the word. Historical because the decision was resolved in a truly ‘Pacific Way’ as described by Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna. “The Pacific came together as a family and dealt with an important issue in a way that a family should – a Pacific Way.’
Also historic in the sense that Pacific ACP leaders created their own ‘space’ to discuss an unresolved long outstanding issue – Fiji’s full participation – without the presence of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) executives in the room. PIFS executives were in Port Moresby to assist the chair of PACP facilitate discussions. The Forum Secretariat plays a key role in the relations between Pacific ACP countries and the European Union. Apart from facilitating the meeting of PACP leaders, the Secretariat’s Secretary General is also the Regional Authorising Officer (RAO) for the European Development Fund (EDF), the development funding assistance that forms the basis of the PACP/EU relationship.
Papua New Guinea’s offer to fund and host an interim secretariat for PACP leaders – away from the Suva-based Forum Secretariat – was a significant milestone of the Port Moresby meeting. As one trade expert in the region explained to me, ‘In PACP relations with the EU, the real power lies in who controls EU development assistance to the region. Right now, that power is in the hands of PIFS Secretary General.’ After Port Moresby, Pacific ACP leaders need to determine where to locate the RAO for the Pacific region.
While that is an issue best left to PACP leaders, the first step to shift PACP responsibilities away from the Forum Secretariat is a ‘bold step,’ said the regional trade expert who is familiar with the PACP relations with the EU.
That bold step is part of the new reformed regional thinking that has emerged in the past five years or so – for Pacific Islanders and their leaders to determine what’s in their best interest without the influence or control of donors and development partners.