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Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 09:18 | SYDNEY
Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 09:18 | SYDNEY

Pacific Forum: Australia takes the helm

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7 August 2009 16:20

Prime Minister Rudd has hosted his first Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting in Cairns and taken over as chair of the regional group for the next year. By all accounts, he was a popular chair.

The Australian Government put significant effort into organising this first major diplomatic summit to be held in Australia since Labor came to power. Unsurprisingly, Australian objectives were clearly reflected in the Forum communiqué. Despite the concerns expressed by small island states about rushing into the commencement of PACER Plus trade negotiations, leaders agreed to commence the negotiations ‘forthwith’ – a major diplomatic success for Australia, which has been pushing the early launch of regional trade negotiations. 

The strong condemnation of Fiji’s military regime in the communiqué ignored the rhetoric of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. This may be part of Forum protocol not to recognise a sub-regional group which has no official status in the Forum’s regional architecture or may reflect a decision from MSG leaders to resile from their own stated support for Commodore Bainimarama’s strategic framework for change and belief that closer engagement with Fiji was necessary.

The MSG’s concern about Fiji’s exclusion from the PACER Plus negotiations was addressed only in part through the Forum's agreement that Fiji officials be kept informed about the negotiations. Forum decisions are made by consensus, which ensures the more robust views of individual leaders are brought back to the centre. Pacific Island populations, however, must wonder what happens to the strong principles of some of their leaders when they go into retreat at the Forum.

An announcement that Australia would develop bilateral Partnerships for Security with Pacific Island countries was hidden down in paragraph 58 of the communiqué. While Australia’s efforts to broaden its relationships with Pacific Island countries beyond the aid agenda should be applauded, it will be interesting to see how the new bilateral partnerships will fit into the Forum’s work on regional security architecture, especially now that Australia has assumed the Chair of the Forum.  

The Forum’s decision to bring 'new determination and an invigorated commitment to lift the economic and development performance of the region' and the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific was a very positive note in the communiqué. It was encouraging to see for the first time the commitment of leaders to an annual high-level dialogue with national, regional and international private sector representatives as part of Forum efforts to foster the reforms necessary for private sector growth and employment.

Photo by Flickr user nznationalparty, used under a Creative Commons license.

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